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Wonder goals not enough as D.C. United fall 3-2 at Atlanta United

Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno produced some magic to break the Black-and-Red’s three-game unbeaten run

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United got world-class goals from Felipe Martins and Edison Flores, but fell 3-2 at Atlanta United. Ezequiel Barco’s spectacular free kick gave Atlanta the lead, while Josef Martínez and George Bello gave the home side their goals. Felipe and Flores both struck thunderous late goals for United, but ultimately they were not enough to extend their unbeaten run to four.

United had the ball in the back of the net in the 9th minute, with Ola Kamara passing the ball into an unguarded net from outside the box, but referee Joseph Dickerson had blown his whistle for a foul on Paul Arriola, whose collision with Brad Guzan caused the empty net.

Atlanta hadn’t been able to do much of anything, but a free kick on the left gave them an 18th minute lead nonetheless. Donovan Pines and George Bello got wrapped up, with Dickerson calling Pines as both had fistfuls of the other’s jersey. Ezequiel Barco took advantage, bending the direct free kick over the wall and into the upper corner, just barely out of Bill Hamid’s reach.

Kamara volleyed wide from a Kevin Paredes cross five minutes later as United’s direct play continued to trouble the home side. However, Atlanta’s response was even more dangerous. A 24th minute Julian Gressel backpass ended up being a through ball for Bello, but the young wingback — with Martínez open — had his shot deflected over the bar by Hamid, who charged out to close the angle down.

The back-and-forth continued. United thought they’d won a penalty in the 33rd minute only for Dickerson to turn their appeal down, while Brillant had to produce a good block to deny Marcelino Moreno less than two minutes later.

Seconds before halftime, United had a golden chance to get level. Drew Skundrich kept Gressel’s half-cleared free kick alive, heading back into the goalmouth towards an open Russell Canouse. Canouse snapped his header towards frame, but Guzan produced a top save to keep the score 1-0.

Edison Flores subbed in at the hour mark, and his first touch was nearly a wonder strike. Atlanta half-cleared a United corner, only for Flores to hit it on the full volley. Guzan did just enough to dive right and tip it away. A minute later, a similar sequence from a free kick fell to Arriola, but his shot through traffic skipped wide.

United appeared so close to getting level, but were stunned by a second Atlanta goal in the 64th minute. Gressel, under pressure, under-hit a pass back, and Barco pounced, drawing defenders before slipping Martínez in behind. Despite running away from goal, Martínez was able to twist himself to fire past Hamid from seven yards.

Stunned, United gave up the next two chances, with substitute Luiz Araújo firing wide after a sensational run at the D.C. defense, and then Marcelino Moreno’s shot from the ground forcing Hamid into a late, diving save.

The Black-and-Red needed a spark, and got it in the 75th minute from substitute Felipe Martins. Yet again, Atlanta half-cleared a service into the box, but this time, Felipe met the ball with a spectacular, ferocious volley that left Guzan with absolutely no chance.

United were pushing numbers forward pursuing an equalizer, but Hamid had to make the game’s next big stop, diving left to tip Martínez’s powerful 84th minute header wide.

Finally, the Black-and-Red’s resistance was snuffed out, as Bello finished the game off in the 87th minute. Marcelino Moreno did all the heavy lifting, evading Tony Alfaro, Felipe, and Canouse before slipping the ball to a wide-open Bello, who just had to tap the ball over the line.

With D.C. sending everyone forward, Martínez had a breakaway in stoppage time denied by the post. Play moved up to the other end, where Flores took a deflected cross on the half-volley, sending a low rocket past Guzan in the fourth minute of stoppage time, but United’s comeback hopes ran out as the game ended almost immediately after Atlanta kicked back off.

For the moment, United (10W-4D-11L) fall to 6th place, with Atlanta hopping over them. DCU could fall out of the playoff places by the end of the weekend, depending on the results in Montreal and Philadelphia’s games tomorrow. After a grueling three games in seven days, United has a full week before their next match, as they host FC Cincinnati next Saturday, September 25, at 7:30pm.

Highlights will be added when they are made available.

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 25
Atlanta United 3 (Barco 18, Martínez 64, Bello 87)
D.C. United 2 (Felipe 75, Flores 94+)

ATL (5311): Brad Guzan (C); Brooks Lennon, George Campbell (Luiz Araújo 57), Alan Franco, Anton Walkes, George Bello; Matheus Rossetto (Mo Adams 78), Santiago Sosa, Marcelino Moreno (Alex De John 89); Ezequiel Barco; Josef Martínez

DCU (532): Bill Hamid; Julian Gressel, Donovan Pines, Frédéric Brillant (C) (Steven Birnbaum 85), Tony Alfaro, Kevin Paredes; Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno (Felipe Martins 60), Drew Skundrich (Edison Flores 60); Paul Arriola (Griffin Yow 71), Ola Kamara

ATL - Franco 65, Araújo 81
DCU - Brillant 27, Moreno 34, Paredes 50, Alfaro 77