The best soccer player on planet Earth, Lionel Messi, did not play inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday night and it didn’t matter. The match was a sellout (71,635) and Atlanta United won 5-2 against Inter Miami. The buzz from the crowd started early and remained throughout.
With Atlanta ahead late in the match, the “Where is Messi?” chants began. Inter Miami had been extremely successful with Messi in the lineup this season. The Argentinian chose not to play on an artificial surface, something that might come to haunt Miami when the postseason rolls around.
The victory helps keep Atlanta in solid position for a spot in the postseason picture. Atlanta United came into this match in sixth place, three points behind Columbus in the Eastern Conference standings (45-42) and might have played their best overall match of the season.
Following the match Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda said he was proud of the way his entire team played.
“I cannot be more proud of the team, they showed heart, passion, and good football,” he said. “Tonight we are going to enjoy. Tomorrow we will be preparing for D.C.”
United dominated the early shots on goal despite the match being scoreless through the first 24 minutes. That would change following a skillful effort from Miami’s number nine Leonardo Campana that gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage. The Ecuadorian forward chested a rebound and shot high into the United goal past its longtime keeper Brad Guzan. Campana scored past Guzan again on a penalty early the second half.
Then the bottom fell out for Miami with three consecutive unanswered first half goals coming from three different United players, none of whom were the team’s leading goal scorer Giorgos Giakoumakis (13 goals, two assists).
Midfielder Tristan Muyumba would get the party started, scoring his first goal of the season on a header that tied the match at one all. A Miami own goal gave Atlanta its first lead of the match in the 41st minute and then defender Brooks Lennon put the Five Stripes ahead 3-1 on a gaol from in front of the Miami net.
That was three goals without Giakoumakis or Thiago Almada (nine goals, 14 assists) having had a shot on goal. Giakoumakis wouldn’t remain goalless for long though, scoring his 14th of the season off an assists from Alamada (15 is a single-season franchise record for assists) and Saba Lobjanidze in the 76th minute.
Local product Tyler Wolff scored his fifth goal of the season in the 89th minute off an assist from Lobjanidze, who came off the bench and made an immediate impact.
Asked about the fact that Messi did not play, Pineda said he believed his team would have won tonight, considering the way they played.
“It’s about us. It’s about Atlanta United,” he said. Pineda credited defenders Caleb Wiley, Miles Robinson, midfielder Brooks Lennon and many others for the victory tonight.
What about Josef?:
Former Atlanta United star and MLS MVP Josef Martinez entered the match in the 82nd minute to a large round of applause.
Atlanta will travel to the nation’s capital to face DC United Wednesday before returning home to play one of their two final home matches of the regular season against Montreal, Saturday, Sept. 23.