ATLANTA (AP)Ezequiel Barco scored Atlanta’s first MLS goal of the season and an own goal by the Chicago Fire propelled United to a 3-1 victory in its home opener Saturday night, giving new coach Gabriel Heinze his first league victory.
Chicago tied the game at 1 in the opening minute of the second half on Luka Stojanovic’s second goal of the season, taking advantage of a sloppy effort by Atlanta’s back line.
But United (1-0-1) regained the lead in the 66th minute. Marcelino Moreno’s cross escaped goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, deflected off Chicago defender Johan Kappelhof and rolled into the net.
Emerson Hyndman clinched it for Atlanta in the 85th by knocking in a rebound after Shuttleworth made a brilliant save on Jake Mulraney, who set up his shot with a dazzling bit of footwork in front of the net.
Heinze arrived from Argentina in December to take over an Atlanta team that won the MLS Cup in 2018 but fell on hard times last season, missing the playoffs for the first time.
After a scoreless draw at Orlando in the league opener, Heinze claimed his first MLS victory before a crowd of 20,335. He already has two wins in the CONCACAF Champions League.
”I’m very happy for the first win,” Heinze said through a translator, ”to be able to give some happiness to the supporters.”
The Fire (0-1-1) fell behind in the 23rd off an Atlanta free kick.
Barco drove it into the Chicago wall, but he was able to retrieve the ricochet and rip a right-footed shot that caught the inside of the top left post to beat Shuttleworth.
”I didn’t know,” Barco said. ”As soon as I hit it, I fell backward to the ground. I didn’t see it go in the net. I didn’t know it went in until I heard all the fans cheering.”
The Fire stormed back after the break.
Boris Sekulic ran onto a long cross at the corner of the area and one-timed a pass toward the opposite post, the ball somehow getting through four United players before Stojanovic flicked it into the net.
But Atlanta turned up the offensive pressure, sending extra players forward to create more scoring chances. It’s a style the team rarely showed in 2020.
”Last year, we probably would have crumbled,” Mulraney said. ”This year is just different.”
Chicago had plenty of scoring chances, bouncing three shots off the post. Atlanta also squandered a prime opportunity when a shot deflected off a Fire player and then struck the post, skidding right to Hyndman at the side of the net.
With the keeper out of position, Hyndman rammed his shot off the side of the goal and crumpled to the turf in disbelief.
But Hyndman made up for that miscue in the closing minutes.
Atlanta United, which has set numerous MLS attendance records, played in a stadium that had a much more familiar feel after the pandemic-marred 2020 season. The team opened up the two lower decks and allowed 50% capacity.
”To be able to play in front of the home fans is the most beautiful thing for a soccer player,” Barco said. ”I’m happy to be able to get a win for the fans. I know it’s been a difficult year for everyone, but we’re happy to have them back.”
Chicago Fire: Play their second straight road game next Saturday at New York Red Bulls.
Atlanta United: Host fellow MLS club Philadelphia Union on Tuesday in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, with the return leg set for May 4 in suburban Philly. United resumes league play at New England next Saturday.
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