Atlanta United defeats Columbus

by: Doug Roberson | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Updated:

Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad (11) takes a shot on goal as Columbus Crew midfielder Will Trapp (20) looks on in the first half of an MLS soccer match, Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Atlanta (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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ATLANTA - Goals from Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez — the team’s three Designated Players — lifted Atlanta United past Columbus 3-1 on Saturday and earned the team an important three points at home at Georgia Tech.
 
Playing their third game in eight days, the Five Stripes (6-6-3) took a 1-0 lead on Villalba’s goal in the 16th minute, saw Columbus equalize on a goal by Federico Higuain in the 26th minute, and re-took the lead on Almiron’s goal in the 67th minute. Martinez added another in the 88th minute for his sixth goal in the league this season.
 
In addition, manager Gerardo Martino was able to sub out Julian Gressel, Almiron and Villalba, giving them some needed minutes off, and insert Josef Martinez for less than 30 minutes, possibly saving him with an eye to Wednesday’s game at D.C. United. The team is in the midst of playing eight games in 25 days.
 
Atlanta United was coming off rallying three times to defeat Charleston 3-2 on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup. Columbus was defeated at Cincinnati 1-0 in the same tournament on the same play. In league play, it had lost six of its eight road games.
 
Martino elected to start in Saturday’s game three of the players who went all 90 minutes Wednesday: goalkeeper Alec Kann, holding midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and Almiron.
 
The game started as some of Atlanta United’s have recently: with a weather delay.
 
Kickoff was delayed by 22 minutes because of a lightning strike, the second time this week that has happened. The start of Wednesday’s game was delayed by more than 2 1/2 hours, and a home game against Houston earlier this season was also delayed by lightning.
 
After a rough five minutes in which Columbus twice was denied by Kann, Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Villalba in the 16th minute. It was his sixth this season and was assisted by Yamil Asad, who poked the ball away from Columbus defender Josh Williams. It was Asad’s team-leading eighth assist.
 
Columbus tied the score in the 26th minute when Higuain reacted first to a deflection from Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst. Atlanta United’s back line was split by an excellent pass from the right by Harrison Afful. Parkhurst got to the ball before Ola Kamara, but couldn’t control the deflection, which Higuain pounced on. Martino has said several times in past two weeks that his team must do a better job reacting to second balls.
 
Atlanta United grabbed a 2-1 lead on a goal by Almiron in the 67th minute. He picked up the ball near midfield and split two defenders before placing a left-footed shot into the lower right corner. It was his team-leading eighth goal this season.
 
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez earned the assist, his second of the season. He started the play with a crunching tackle in Atlanta United’s penalty box. He pounced on the loose ball and put Almiron into space with a nice pass.