ORLANDO, Fla. – Atlanta United remained unbeaten against Orlando City with a 2-1 victory on Sunday.
Goals from Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco in the first half were enough to improve the Five Stripes to 2-0-2 against the Lions in the beginnings of an MLS rivalry in front of 24,232 at a rainy Orlando City Stadium.
The victory also keeps Atlanta United (8-2-1) atop the league in points (25). It will host New York Red Bulls (6-3-0) on May 20 in yet another important game in a serious stretch for the team.
Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino elected to not use the 4-3-3 formation that featured in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Sporting KC and instead brought back the 3-5-2 formation, which was used during the team’s eight-game unbeaten streak. Miles Robinson made his second start at centerback and Alec Kann, recovered from his knee injury, started in goal in place of the suspended Brad Guzan. Surprisingly, Martino elected to not start Hector Villalba at striker. Villalba’s game-winner at Orlando last year was voted the goal of the year in MLS. He also scored the tying goal the next week in the rematch.
Martino’s decisions worked.
Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute on a penalty kick by Martinez. The goal was high eighth this season and tied him for the league lead with Columbus’ Gyasi Zardes. The penalty kick was called because Greg Garza was pulled down from behind by Cristian Higuita near the top of the penalty box. Martinez has converted 4-of-5 penalty kicks in his MLS career.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 in the 31st minute on a goal by Barco, whose shot hit the underside of the crossbar. It was Barco’s second goal this season and Garza’s third assist. It was an easy goal for Atlanta United. Garza received a pass from Barco. Instead of hitting a cross through the penalty box, Garza hit a shorter pass back to the trailing Barco, who hit the ball with the outside of his right foot.
Orlando City missed a chance to cut into the lead in the 43rd when Higuita’s header from 7 yards out went right to Kann.
Orlando City, which this season has become good at rallying, cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 on a goal by Justin Meram in the 57th minute. Will Johnson hit a hard shot from distance that Kann punched away. The rebound came to Meram just inside the top of the penalty box. He skipped through a tackle by Robinson and hit a right-footed shot into the lower right corner.
Orlando City fought to get the tying goal, but Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Robinson thwarted each attack.
Frustration mounted for the Lions. Teammates Sacha Kljestan and Mohamed El-Munir began pushing each other late in the half. Orlando City supporters then threw dozens of plastic bottles onto the field after referee Alan Kelly declined to call a penalty on Gonalez Pirez in injury time.
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Inset Image: AP Photo/File