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Gressel, Mabiala score as Atlanta, Portland play to 1-1 draw

Jun 24, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Julian Gressel (24) attempts a shot past Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Chara (21) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA, Ga. — Atlanta United F.C. learned on Sunday that dominating possession doesn’t equal more goals.

The Five Stripes had the ball for 69 percent of the time against the Portland Timbers, but they were only able to muster a single score. Atlanta and Portland played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 45,116.

“We knew coming into the game that (Atlanta) were going to get a lot of shots and a lot of chances, but to be honest, I thought defensively we did really well keeping them in front of us, so that made it easier for me to face long distance shots,” said Portland keeper Jeff Antinella. “A lot of the credit goes to the defense for keeping them in front of us and playing really well.”

Antinella came up with nine saves in the match, which is the second-most ever for a Timbers keeper in a Major League Soccer match.

While Atlanta (10-3-4) controlled the ball for the majority of the first half, Portland (6-3-5) made the most of it’s chances, tallying six shots, three of which were on-goal. The Timbers had 12 shots for the entirety of the game, but just one found the back of the net.

A long free kick from Diego Valeri in the 33rd minute found it’s way into the penalty area and Samuel Armenteros tapped the ball forward for a shot. It was blocked by Brad Guzan, but Larrys Mabiala quickly recovered and put the ball past the American goalkeeper with a diving header.

For Mabiala, a 30-year-old French defender, it was just the second goal of his two-year MLS career. He scored earlier this season for the Timbers against NYCFC.

Shortly after halftime, Portland switched to a five-man back line, which made it bit more difficult for the Five Stripes to break through, but they finally did in the 56th minute, when Julian Gressel pounced on an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

The German winger got a pass from Ezequiel Barco and fought his way into the box, then let a shot fly. That shot was blocked, but Franco Escobar quickly landed on the rebound and tried to cross it. That was stopped too, but the ball bounced back towards Gressel, who kick the ball hard with his right foot. It took one bounce and landed in the net, giving the 24-year-old his second goal of the season.

Darlington Nagbe didn’t see Atlanta’s equalizer against his old team. The midfielder crumpled to the turf shortly before the goal and laid there in pain until Atlanta’s medical staff helped him off the field in the 57th minute. He walked off with help, and Héctor “Tito” Villalba came on for him as a substitute.

“(Nagbe) brings all kinds of creativity in the midfield and he connects everything,” said Atlanta defender Mikey Ambrose. “He’s a wonderful player.”

Nagbe has started every league game for Atlanta this season and was leading the Five Stripes in minutes played. Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said it “seems” that Nagbe has a “muscle injury.” Martino speculated that the injury could be near Nagbe’s abductor, but the manager wasn’t sure.

If Nagbe has to miss any time, Martino said that Kevin Kratz could sub in for him, or Gressel could slide over to the central midfield and Villalba could play on the wing. Martino added that Villalba isn’t starting league games yet because he isn’t quite 100 percent healthy.

Atlanta fired 21 shots off in the match, controlled 69 percent of possession and was accurate on 89 percent of its passes, but Gressel’s goal was the only one of the game for the Five Stripes. Gressel created four chances for the Five Stripes, according to Opta, was 82 percent accurate on 58 passes, and took five shots.

In total, Atlanta tallied 10 shots on-target.

“We have amazing players up top and they’re going to create a lot of chances. A lot of games they’re going to score a lot of goals,” Ambrose said. “Sometimes they just don’t go in.”

Because of the broken nose he suffered in a win against Columbus Crew SC on June 13, Josef Martínez started this match wearing a black mask. But in the 62nd minute, he ripped it off in anger after his headed shot was saved by Attinella.

“I haven’t talked to (Martínez) but I have a feeling that (the mask bothered him),” Martino said through a translator. “Especially when, two of (his) chances were headers. So, I have the feeling that he’s not used to wearing it and it could have affected his vision.”

Martínez leads MLS in goals scored with 14 and had scored at least once in each of Atlanta’s last four games, but his scoring streak was snapped after none of his four shots found the back of the net.

Atlanta United’s home-field advantage might be a bit overstated. The Five Stripes lead the league in attendance, drawing an average of 48,401 fans per match, but they have just one win in their last four league matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United also fell to the Chicago Fire on Wednesday at home in U.S. Open Cup play.

Said Gressel: “We got to get back to being that team at home that no one wants to come in here and play.” 

Notes:

  • This is the sixth time this season Barco has won at least four fouls. Only Magnus Eriksson (seven) has more such games.
  • Sal Zizzo and Kratz also appeared as subs for Atlanta versus Portland, coming on for Ambrose and Gressel.
  • This was the first time since 2008 that the Timbers had played in Atlanta. Then, they faced the Atlanta Silverbacks, a former USL side.. Lawrence Olum scored Portland’s goal in that 1-1 draw and also started for the Timbers on Sunday.
  • Former Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad — who now plays for D.C. United — was in the Benz to watch his old teammates on Sunday. Leandro González Pírez joked about his old teammate’s appearance afterwards, saying, “We know Yamil is here and he’s a good friend of ours. But if we’re going to lose, he’s not allowed to come anymore.”

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