Atlanta United hosted Eastern Conference opponent Inter Miami CF at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for their third matchup of the year. Unlike the first two meetings, and despite conceding first, Atlanta was the side to collect the three points with a 5-2 victory. Giorgos Giakoumakis is now tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race after scoring his 14th goal of the season, and Thiago Almada broke the single-season club record with his 15th assist.
Miami was unbeaten in all competitions in its last 12 matches prior to Saturday's match, ever since World Cup winner Lionel Messi joined the club in July. Messi did not play in the match or travel with the team to Atlanta due to fatigue.
"Regardless if Messi was going to play or not... we can't control that," Brad Guzan said. "We had to control what we were able to control, and that was ourselves in terms of how we approach the game and how we applied ourselves in the game for 90-plus minutes, and I thought we did that really well."
Atlanta pushed to find the opening goal in the first half and created many chances in the final third but failed to connect on the final pass. The first solid chance came in the 19th minute with a Brooks Lennon cross that found midfielder Matheus Rossetto at the center of the box. His shot missed but landed in front of Giakoumakis, who ripped a shot, but it was deflected out for a corner.
The first goal of the match came in the 25th minute. Midfielder Dixon Arroyo blasted a shot from outside the box that hit off the post and bounced around in front of goal. Forward Leo Campana collected and chipped the ball over his defender and smashed another shot, this one heading straight into the upper netting to give Miami the 1-0 lead.
The visitors didn’t hold on to the lead for long before Atlanta found the equalizer in the 36th minute. Giakoumakis played a long switch to Edwin Mosquera on the right side, who laid it off for Lennon running into the box. Lennon sent in another cross, finding the head of Tristan Muyumba, who flicked in his first goal of the season.
The 5-Stripes doubled the lead five minutes later after midfielder Xande Silva chased a pass down into the left corner. He took a move around his defender and sent in a cross, but it was deflected off Miami’s Kamal Miller into the back of the net for an own goal.
Within a record span of eight minutes, Atlanta found its third goal of the half. Defender Caleb Wiley made a run up the left flank, made a couple crossovers to get around his defender and passed to Lennon at the center of the box. He took a touch before sending his shot into the goal past the outstretched hand of Drake Callender. Lennon recorded his fourth goal and 10th assist of the season, both setting career highs.
Miami got one back early in the second half after a handball inside the box by Luis Abram resulted in a penalty kick. Campana stepped up to the spot and converted to earn a brace on the night and bring the scoreline to 3-2.
Atlanta history was made in the 76th minute with Almada's 15th assist of the season. The midfielder made a run up the middle of the field before playing the ball off to Saba Lobjanidze, who had just subbed into the match. The Georgian winger passed the ball across the face of goal to Giakoumakis, and he slotted it into the back of the net. All three of Atlanta's designated players combined for this goal.
"I talked about Miami making some good signings this summer, and we did exactly that," Guzan said. "Whenever you're in the transfer window, and there's the ability to bring players in, you not only want to add quality, we want to add good people. We've certainly done that, and those guys showed their quality tonight."
Atlanta put the final nail in the coffin in the 89th minute. Lobjanidze intercepted a pass in the center circle and made a sprint towards goal. He laid it off to Tyler Wolff at the top of the box, and the forward sent in a shot to the top corner for his fifth goal of the season and the fifth Atlanta goal of the night. Wolff scored just nine minutes after entering the match and Lobjanidze recorded two assists in 26 minutes.
The team explained that having over 70,000 fans cheering for them in the stadium gave them confidence and help bring on the avalanche of goals. Saturday's 5-2 win was the fourth time this season the 5-Stripes have scored four or more goals against an opponent, all of which were at home.
"We always talk about the best way to sustain that advantage is to increase it," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "If we're winning 2-1, the best way to win is 3-1. Now we're 3-1, [let's] make it 4-1. That's the best way to make sure we get the three points. So, it has to be a balance of enough attack-minded situations, but the same counter-measures to make sure we're not open in transition."
Atlanta remains in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, just three points away from tying for third. With five matches remaining in the regular season, Pineda wants the group to celebrate the win but stay focused on the playoff goal.
"[The win] tells us we're heading in the right direction," he said. "The job is not done at all. We're still not in the top four. We're still not for sure in playoffs. Today, we're going to enjoy it. Tomorrow, we will already be preparing for D.C. The players will be recovering, training. But, of course, it's telling us that the team is going in the right direction."
Up next – Atlanta United heads to the Capitol to face D.C. United
The 5-Stripes will have a quick turnaround before taking on D.C. United at Audi Field on Wednesday, September 23. The two sides met earlier this season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where Atlanta secured three points with a 3-1 win.