Atlanta United Open Up Glitzy New Stadium With Huge Win Over Dallas
ATLANTA (AP) — Finally moving into their glitzy new home, Atlanta United drew another sellout crowd, won for the first time in more than seven weeks and bolstered their playoff hopes with a 3-0 victory over FC Dallas on Sunday.
Josef Martinez, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Greg Garza scored for the MLS expansion team, which thrilled the packed house of 45,314 with a dominating performance in its debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
United was supposed to begin the season at the $1.5 billion stadium it shares with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, but constructions delays pushed back the opening three times. Atlanta was forced to play its first nine home matches at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, and two other games were rescheduled for later in the season.
The quirky scheduling resulted in United (11-8-6) having only nine home matches before Sunday's contest, at least three less than every other team in the league. Since the team's last home game on July 29, a 1-1 draw with Orlando, it had played just three games — all on the road, posting two draws and a loss.
Even so, Atlanta remained tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference and, having played fewer matches than any other team, still in prime position to make a run to the playoffs in its first season.
The victory was United's first since a 1-0 triumph at Orlando on July 21.
Nothing changed with the midseason move to a new venue, even with the remnants of Hurricane Irma expected to bring high winds and drenching rain to the Atlanta area on Monday, prompting schools and many businesses to announce they were shutting down for a couple of days.
That didn't dampen the enthusiasm of United fans. Every available seat was filled at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a team that was already leading Major League Soccer in attendance at 46,318 per game, on pace to break the record of 44,247 set by perennial attendance leader Seattle two years ago. They could have drawn even more to their second home opener of the season, but red, black and gold curtains blocked off the upper deck to provide a more intimate atmosphere in a facility that can seat more than 75,000.
United does plan to open the upper deck for at least two games.
Dominating the match right from the start, Atlanta jumped ahead in the 14th minute when Gonzalez Pirez scored his first goal of the season. From near the sideline, Miguel Almiron floated a pass into the penalty area, Hector Villalba flicked it past two Dallas players with a deft header, and the defender slipped to the back post to knock the ball past helpless goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
Less than a minute into the second half, United extended its lead after Dallas (9-8-10) sloppily lost possession to Carlos Carmona in its own end. Quickly seizing the chance, Almiron zipped down the left side with the ball and sent a pass through a defender's legs, setting up Martinez's easy one-timer into an open net for his 10th goal in league games.
Garza made it a rout in the 68th minute with his second goal of the season. Again, it was Villalba with an assist, this time on a crossing pass that Martinez wisely allowed to go through as he was marked by Walker Zimmerman. Garza had no one around him on the back post for yet another score that was barely challenged by the visiting team.
Atlanta outshot Dallas 12-5 in an opening half that could've been a much larger margin than 1-0. Yamil Asad sent a floated shot off the woodwork and Martinez beat Gonzalez with a shot, only to have Matt Hedges hustle back to clear it.
Also, it looked as though Martinez would get a penalty kick when Gonzalez took down the Atlanta star as he broke free in the area for another open shot. But the call was overturned, along with a yellow card against the keeper, when referee Mark Geiger ruled offsides had been called first.
Not that it mattered.