FRISCO, Texas- In a battle of two of the best sides in Major League Soccer, FC Dallas came back late to defeat Atlanta United 3-2 on the Fourth of July.
Tesho Akindele came on and played the role of the super sub, scoring two goals late and rescuing FC Dallas from a defeat at home to a win.
“I thought we beat the best team in the league,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said. “I have my respect for Atlanta and what Tata [Martino] is doing there with that team. It is very difficult to play against a group of players that are very talented and very crafty and they have a lot of sequences that are not easy to manage or control. That is what we did in the first half. We controlled their sequences. I thought our team was disciplined enough and we created options, which gave us the hope to be a team that competes against anyone.”
Akindele pounced on a bouncing ball in the box off a corner kick and slid in ball into the back of the net to give Dallas a late lead in the 88th minute. It was the impact Pareja expected from Akindele, who has been through a rough patch scoring-wise.
“I think we were playing well,” Akindele said. “We were losing. I think it was one of the best games we played all year and then, just energy from everyone on the team. You see guys like Maxi [Urruti]. He’s played almost every game this season and he’s still running as hard as he can. People like Lamah, Barrios, Gruezo. All of our players are giving it all that they got and I think that energy is contagious and I try to add to that.”
The first of his brace came in the 86th minute. Great combination play between a Maxi Urruti back heel and Akindele found himself in space. He beat a defender and took a shot, which beat Brad Guzan near post and tied the game up at two.
For Akindele, it was his first goals of the season. Akindele scored in the 1-0 victory in theU.S. Open Cup against San Antonio FC and after the match, talked about how he wanted to be in discussions for playing time.
This performance surely helped his case.
“I just tried to kinda run offensively and defensively,” Akindele said. “They put me on the field to score at the end of the day so I had to take my chances.”
Dallas has turned around well after a short week, which saw the team defeating Minnesota in a gritty, 1-0 victory and talented playmaker Mauro Diaz depart for the United Arab Emirates
“What a game to come to on July 4,” rightback Reggie Cannon said. “It was a great experience playing out there. It was probably the most intense game I’ve ever played. One of our subs ended up coming really through for us. We defended well, for those 80 minutes, but we had a couple of slip-ups. Josef Martinez, that guy is a hunter. He knows exactly where to be in the box but we put the goals away and we got to get the win.”
Dallas now sits atop the Western Conference on 35 points. At the halfway point in the 2017 season, the team had 28 points before its collaspe. However, Pareja talked about how each season is in the past and that the focus is on the current players.
“I don’t want to keep talking about last year,” Pareja said. “Last year is past. What we did two years ago, when we had title and trophies and 60 points back-to-back, that’s past too. This group of players just deserve to be focused on what they are doing game by game. Last year is over.”
The scoring opened up in the 22nd minute when Roland Lamah earned a free kick for his side just outside the 18. In stepped Dallas centerback Reto Ziegler, who hit the free kick near post and beat Guzan for the opening goal of the match.
Atlanta would come back and score quickly off great individual work from Hector Villalba, who beat Dallas left back Maynor Figueroa. Villalba used the space and played a ball into the middle, finding Josef Martínez to tie the game up.
Martínez would add another to his tally, increasing his overall goals to 17 in the 73rd minute. Miguel Almirón, who had been contained for most of the match, found space late on a miscommunication between Carlos Gruezo and Victor Ulloa, who seemed to be marking the Paraguayan tightly. Almirón used the space to find a sprinting Martínez, who beat Ziegler and put the ball past Jesse Gonzalez to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead.
It was a devasting loss for Atlanta, who could have gone eight points clear of any team in MLS, East or West. Atlanta coach Tata Martino hoped to minimize the damage to one match, as the Five Stripes travel to Philadelphia for a match with the Union on Saturday.
“I hope these errors don’t affect us for the next match,” Martino said. “These kinds of losses hurt. They hurt the most when you don’t deserve to lose, but when the rivals are better than you. It’s a different kind of feeling because you know that team outplayed you. You are able to accept that loss more even though it still hurts you. In our case, we did everything we could to win but ended up leaving empty-handed.”
“Just a few unlucky bounces,” Atlanta defender Mikey Ambrose said. “Bouncing around the box, people trying to clear it. The ball just squeaked through… I’m at a loss for words for what happened on that goal. A lack of concentration and a lack of discipline in the last five minutes.”
FC Dallas will travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to play Real Salt Lake on July 7.
Atlanta United will also hit the road, going to Talon Energy Stadium to play the Philadelphia Union on July 7.