Just a year ago, Atlanta United was the toast of MLS showing how an expansion team could instantly be successful in modern MLS. Fast forward to 2018 and the new kids on the block from LA seem to have found that same script and are writing their own MLS expansion season magic.
Young, talented players alongside proven MLS veteran players with a head coach bold enough and credible enough to manage all those egos seems to be the early recipe for the ATL and the LAFC success. So as the two mirror image franchises collided, something had to give in this battle of MLS version 3.0 clubs.
LAFC brought their familiar lineup they’ve used so far this season with just one change being the addition of Georgia native Walter Zimmerman to the LAFC backline. Atlanta, on the other hand, played a much different squad due to several injuries and the Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez red-card suspension. Mikey Ambrose and Miles Robinson made their 2018 season debuts because of all the changes.
Atlanta again implemented a 3-5-2 formation with Ambrose and Gressel playing as the wing backs. Michael Parkhurst, Chris McCann, and the newcomer Robinson started in the central defense, while Darlington Nagbe and Jeff Larentowicz provided the midfield defensive work with Miguel Almiron the lone attacking midfielder. Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez played as a target-man and shadow-striker, as well as going side-by-side at times.
After just a few seconds of play, Atlanta looked to be down to 10-men after McCann was shown a red card for an aggressive challenge in the midfield. A VAR review reduced the red card to just a caution, though, and Atlanta avoided a major moment so early in the match. They then weathered some nervous defensive moments from Ambrose and Robinson in the first half to keep LAFC off the scoreboard, before Julian Gressel pounced on an Almiron pass across the six-yard box to send King Peach to the locker room up 1-0 at the half.
The second half opened with more Atlanta possession and an early ball from midfield substitute Kevin Kratz sprang Gressel up the right flank where he measured a floated ball to the head of the waiting Martinez at the back post for a 2-0 Atlanta lead. With the goal, Martinez becomes the first player in MLS history to score 24 goals over his first 25 games passing Carlos Ruiz, Mamadou Diallo, and Stern John to write his name in the MLS record books.
Atlanta never strayed from their game plan and absorbed the LAFC pressure in a solid block of players behind the ball, to then spring one of those speedy ATL players on the counter. A trip in the box that was aided by VAR sent Almiron to the spot in the 89thminute for his first goal of the game, and then just two minutes later a handball sent him back to the spot for his second goal of the match. Substitute Romario Williams scored his first MLS goal in the 97th minute to make it 5-0 as he slalomed his way through the LAFC defense for the near post finish.
So, here are the Atlanta player ratings from quite a performance.