For what Atlanta United has done the past two years, I never want to hear fans complain about an ugly win ever again. The Five Stripes hold onto a second straight 1-0 win at home, making it three straight wins for the club. Ezequiel Barco's deflected strike near the corner of the box was the only tally against the league lowest point holder Toronto FC.
The first twenty-five minutes of the match were all Atlanta's, as the newly signed designated player Luiz Araujo brought a different element of swagger into the attacking third. On a creative back pass from Josef, Araujo's right footed shot from deep was saved in the 8th minute, while returning the favor on a smooth cross to Martinez minutes later that was missed left of the keeper. Marcelino Moreno also had another chance that just sailed above the bar. Barco's goal was assisted by Brooks Lennon, which was his 4th assist of the 2021 campaign. After this, it wasn't too pretty. The backline and midfield turned a little sloppy with the ball as Toronto pressed for the majority of the second half. Blowing so many leads in the final minutes this season, a disappointing draw felt inevitable. Yet, the group held on for their second straight clean sheet. At this point in the season with the situation these players are in, finding a way to earn three points was the only focus.
Managers like Frank de Boer and Gabriel Heinze came into this league as highly regarded managers. de Boer won four Eredivisie titles at Ajax and Heinze left both Argentinos Juniors and Velez Sarsfield with successful situations. However, they both came into Major League Soccer with an overcomplicated system that hindered the success of their best players. Sure... de Boer won two trophies. But the pressure was on him once he lost the locker room in the middle of the 2019 season and had no choice but to meet in the middle with the players. Heinze led the league in time of possession, but too bad you don't get bonus points with that. In contrast, Rob Valentino has showed lots of love for his players. Yes, the tactics aren't perfect but the team believes in each other now. He deserves a lot of praise and I'm so happy that he will be remaining a key part of this coaching staff moving forward.
Atlanta will be back in action Saturday night on the road against DC United. DC just finished a two-game road trip with 5-2 and 3-2 losses to the best two teams in the East in Nashville and New England. There are a lot of injuries for their team right now with goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defenders Andy Najar, Brendan Hines-Ike, Donovan Pines, and midfielders Kevin Paredes and Russell Canouse missing their match on Wednesday. Najar and Paredes were reported as precautionary holdouts in hopes to play this weekend. DC United are currently 6th place and three points ahead of Atlanta United. That tells you how huge it is to get a result on the road. New manager Gonzalo Pineda will meet the group in DC today, but Valentino will manage one final match before passing duties on Tuesday's training.
The last time Atlanta has won four straight league matches? Mid August of 2019. The team is 1-4-0 in the nation's capital, with the only win being a 4-0 blowout last season in an empty stadium. Let's hope I see this win streak continue in my first game seeing the team live in over two and a half years. If you're there, stop by in section 112 and say hi. Vamos ATL!