Sunday evening, Atlanta United extended their unbeaten streak at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to 15 matches after a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union. Substitute Ezequiel Barco scored the equalizer on a header in the 70th minute, after entering the match three minutes earlier.
Barco’s goal was his first of the season and fifth in his Atlanta United career.
While Atlanta United dominated the ball with 71% possession, their best chance in the first half came on an attempt by Josef Martinez in the 37th minute. Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez fired in a cross and Josef’s attempt clanged off of the crossbar.
Tito Villalba started in place of the aforementioned Barco Sunday evening and he brought a direct and attacking flair to the side. Moreover, his ability to run one-on-one against Philadelphia pulled their defenders away from Josef and Pity Martinez.
“I feel like we were finding some problems to really find our free man,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer explained. “Because (Philadelphia) was very organized, we couldn’t keep our man in the midfield free. So, the first 40 minutes wasn’t the type of play that we wanted to see. After that, we went to 4-4-2 we got more into the game. Directly after, Josef Martinez had a good chance when he hit the crossbar.”
In the second half, 18-year-old Brenden Aaronson in his MLS debut scored in the 47th minute for Philadelphia. Aaronson received the ball on the left side of the field, dribbled to the top of the box and took a shot that deflected off defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez leaving Guzan flat-footed and the ball calmly rolled into the net.
Defender Miles Robinson was named the Man of the Match for his stellar play Sunday. He was on the last line of defense as he kept a ball out of Atlanta’s net in the first half, he constantly mopped up messes left for him in defense, and he played a sweeper role in the back four.
“Obviously, there are veterans all around me, and it helps learning from them and them teaching me along the way, which they have been doing for the past two years,” Robinson explained. “Now, it is my time to show what I have.”
Frank de Boer praised Robinson’s level of play throughout this stretch of matches.
“We have to treasure that he’s now playing on this high level because he’s still young,” de Boer said. “Hopefully, he doesn’t fall back, but that’s normal when you’re young. Until now, he’s doing a fantastic job for the team and himself. Hopefully, he can continue to do so. Right now, he’s really fantastic.”
One subtle change de Boer made when Barco came on in the 67th minute was moving Pity Martinez into the number ten role, as the central attacking midfielder as he played directly behind Josef Martinez. As Atlanta United created more width on the pitch, Pity had more room to create for himself, find his teammates and as a result, get more shots on Philadelphia’s goal.
“He has to get use to this, and he knows this wasn’t his best game,” de Boer said of Pity Martinez. “He can play much better, and he has to play much better. He has to adapt to everything like the new culture, new circumstances, and new turf. All those aspects make it quite difficult. We know he is a fantastic and quality player. We have to have patience with him.”
While Atlanta United won’t play another match until March 30th against the Columbus Crew, three players have been called up for international duty. Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez has become the first MLS player to get called up to Argentina’s first team. Josef Martinez will represent Venezuela as they play against Argentina March 22nd. Josef has nine goals in 46 appearances for Venezuela. Tito Villalba will represent Paraguay and will be available against Peru on March 22 and Mexico on March 26.