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Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United cruise to victory over Colorado Rapids

The difference between Atlanta United FC and the Colorado Rapids Saturday was that one side was armed with Miguel Almiron and the other side was not.

Almiron found the back of the net twice and assisted on a Hector “Tito” Villalba goal in the Five Stripes 3-0 win over the Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

The Paraguayan midfielder was also stellar on defense, notching a pair of tackles and an interception. Almiron also drew three fouls for free kicks.

For Atlanta United (17-5-6), the win puts them atop the New York Red Bulls by two points in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. New York faces D.C. United Sunday.

The scoring started quickly for Atlanta. On a counter attack in the 10th minute, Julian Gressel collected a pass from Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and took it down the right sideline. After two touches, Gressel fired a low, hard cross from the wing into the box. A sprinting Almiron met the ball, stopped, and then kicked it over Tim Howard’s head.

Almiron then added his second goal eight minutes later. Eric Remedi recovered a loose ball in midfield and kicked it on to Josef Martinez. Almiron and Martinez sprinted into the box together, and Martinez sliced the ball between a defender’s legs, leading to an easy and open shot for Almiron. 

Almiron, who has 11 goals, struck for multiple goals for the first time since June 30, when he netted a brace in a home victory over Orlando City.

In the 37th minute, Almiron provided an assist to Villalba for the third score of the game — and Almiron’s 12th assist of the season — putting extra cushion between the Five Stripes and the Rapids. The play started when Gressel, who also has 12 assists this season, fired the ball up field to Almiron. After taking a touch, Almiron fired a low cross across his body to Villalba, who chipped the ball past Howard.

For Gressel, it was his first multi-assist game since May 28, 2017, when he dished out two dimes for Atlanta in a 3-1 win over NYCFC. The versatile German also tallied 37 successful passes and two tackles on Saturday.

Sep 15, 2018; Commerce City, CO, USA; General view of fans outside of Dick's Sporting Goods Par before the match between Atlanta United against the Colorado Rapids. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino deployed a 3-5-2 formation in the victory. He started Darlington Nagbe in the midfield and left regular starters Ezequiel Barco and Franco Escobar on the bench. Barco later subbed in for Villalba.

It marked the first time Nagbe had played in a match since he suffered an injury to his abductor in June. He played 77 minutes and was perfect on his 33 passes.

Colorado (6-16-6) suffered a fourth straight loss. Kellyn Acosta played 90 minutes and took four shots, but just one on target. Acosta had a chance to tie things up in the 14th minute when he was taken down 20 yards from goal, but his free kick soared over the crossbar.

In total, Colorado fired 18 shots, but just three were on target. Atlanta’s Brad Guzan had three saves and claimed a cross.

Cole Bassett, Colorado’s 17-year-old homegrown midfielder, made his home debut in the 82nd minute when he subbed on for Bismark Boateng. In his second MLS game, Bassett was successful on seven passes.

Colorado will have to wait a week to bounce back from this loss. They travel to Columbus to face the Crew on Sept. 22. Atlanta United has a quick turnaround and will play in San Jose against the Earthquakes on Wednesday.

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