Atlanta United has existed as an MLS franchise for only two-plus years, but the Red and Black’s game appears to have progressed well beyond the Revolution’s.
Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup titlist, took a 2-0 win over the Revolution on Saturday night, extending its unbeaten streak to five games in the series.
Ezequiel Barco, a substitute acquired on a $15 million transfer last year, converted both goals as Atlanta (1-2-2, 5 points) repeatedly broke through a jerry-rigged Revolution (1-5-1, 4 points) defense.
“It’s difficult for any team around the globe to deal with the amount of injuries and a suspension we have across the back line,” Revolution coach Brad Friedel said. “I don’t think the first 30 minutes anyone’s passing was particularly good or sharp. We looked a little nervous.”
The Red and Black, which had scored only twice in league play this season, dominated possession in midfield and easily found room through the middle to produce several breakaways in the opening half.
On the first goal, Hector Villalba rounded Andrew Farrell and centered for Barco to finish from point-blank range in the 29th minute. Atlanta nearly scored thrice more in the opening 19 minutes, but had shots by Josef Martinez and Julian Gressel cleared off the line by Farrell, then Martinez scuffed a low, curling cross from Gressel.
“My mistake on the first goal, we got kind of down in a hole and they kind of got their confidence going,” Farrell said. “They were probably low on confidence with how the season started, so getting that goal away from home probably gave them a little boost and kind of opened the game up. But I thought, having key guys out, the guys stepped in and did a good job.”
Farrell moved from right back to central defense in the absence of Antonio Delamea (knee) and captain Michael Mancienne (suspended). On the opening goal, Farrell had been pulled out of the middle to right sideline as right back Luis Caicedo — normally a midfielder — failed to recover.
The early going was marked by ragged play, the Revolution launching the opening kickoff toward the penalty area, resulting in a collision involving Luis Caicedo and Eric Remedi, who was treated for concussion protocol and replaced by Barco in the 15th minute.
The Revolution threatened as Cristian Penilla went down in the penalty area, but was cautioned for diving by Alex Chilowicz in the 12th minute; DeJuan Jones had a goal disallowed for offside (38th) off a throw-in; and Juan Fernando Caicedo had a shot deflected by Myles Robinson for a corner (41st).
Atlanta United easily broke through the midfield and found space against the Revolution back line, which had Jalil Anibaba, who had been slated as a reserve central defender, and three starters — Brandon Bye, Luis Caicedo, and Farrell — performing out of position.
Barco scored in the 49th minute, curling a 25-yarder from the top of the penalty area into the right side of the net. The sequence was set up as former Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst advanced on the wing and fed Villalba, who sent a pass through the penalty area to Barco, making a late run on the left.
Farrell again made a strong recovery in the second half, blocked a Martinez breakaway, and Revolution goalkeeper Cody Cropper made stops on Gressel, Martinez, and Villalba.
“They have a really good offense,” Farrell said. “Obviously, the season they’ve had hasn’t gone according to the talent that they have. I’m disappointed in the result, [but] they have great players and you guys saw that. It’s tough because one of the things they really do is make hard runs, something that I don’t know if people notice as much, but they make these check-ins and sprints in space and it’s very hard to defense. But we knew that’s what they were going to do.”
The Revolution, who play host to the New York Red Bulls next Saturday, are off to their slowest start since a 1-6-0 (3 points) opening in 2001.