As one of the new kids on the MLS block, Atlanta United has to earn respect around the league. The Five Stripes did just that with a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday night in Toronto at BMO Field. Back-to-back results on the road against the two 2016 MLS Cup opponents is very impressive for a team that has only been in competitive action for one month.
Tito Villalba opened the scoring in the 15th minute, getting on the end of a magnificent through ball from Miguel Almiron and blasting a right-footed shot past Toronto’s Alex Bono. Toronto responded with one of the best goals of the young season, Sebastian Giovinco finished off a backheel from Jozy Altidore to level the scoreline in the 20th minute. The Reds then took advantage of a turnover and defensive miscommunication in the 44th minute when Steven Beitashour’s cross was redirected past Alec Kann by Justin Morrow.
Halftime adjustments from manager Tata Martino paid off quickly as Leandro Gonzalez Pirez picked out Tito Villalba with a precise 50-yard ball over the top. Villalba outran Toronto defender Chris Mavinga and coolly slotted his shot between Bono’s legs to equalize.
Atlanta had to persevere with 10 men after Yamil Asad was red carded in the 75th minute. He collided with Eriq Zavaleta and was judged to have elbowed Zavaleta in the back of the head. Referee Dave Gantar discussed the incident in great detail with his assistants and fourth official before showing Asad the red card.
Manager Tata Martino on the last two results:
“Two good ties on the road against two of the best teams in the league and in the case of tonight we were down a man so in that sense it was a good point.”
Captain Michael Parkhurst on the adjustments after the red card:
“We just had to dig in there at the end there was about 15 minutes left and at that point coming out with a 2-2 draw was the goal. We wanted to stay solid defensively but otherwise I thought we could do that. We kept them in front of us and away from the goal pretty much.”
Forward Tito Villalba on his two goals:
“The first goal I think was all Miguel, he gave me a great pass. And the second I took advantage of my speed and was able to score that way.”
- Tata Martino dropped Jeff Larentowicz deeper in the formation in the second half which helped neutralize Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Larentowicz often acted as a third center back, joining Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. It also helped Atlanta match up better with Toronto’s 3-5-2 formation.
- There was some discussion on the TSN TV broadcast from Canada that Eriq Zavaleta might have waved at Yamil Asad as he was leaving the field after the red card. Cameras did catch Martino and his assistant Jorge Thieler in some animated discussions with Zavaleta and the fourth official. Thieler was dismissed from the match on the recommendation of the fourth official.
- In the last two games, the Five Stripes have shown that they will not back down from any team in this league. Road results are very difficult to come by, especially against the top clubs, and Atlanta now has back-to-back draws against last year’s finalists. United has the second best road record in the league behind the Portland Timbers right now.