Villalba scores in third consecutive match, Bello becomes eighth youngest player to start MLS match
ATLANTA — Atlanta United defeated Real Salt Lake 2-0 Saturday night in front of 72,017 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Julian Gressel scored a goal and added an assist, while Tito Villalba scored in his third consecutive game to carry Atlanta to a comfortable win. Also, 16-year-old Homegrown Player George Bello started his first MLS match, becoming the eighth-youngest player in MLS history to start a game. In the 73rd minute, Bello was subbed off for Jose Hernandez, who made his MLS debut. With the win, combined with New York City FC’s draw against Montreal, Atlanta clinched a bye into the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the upcoming MLS Cup Playoffs.
Atlanta controlled play for much of the first half – holding Real Salt Lake to just one attempted shot – and it finally broke through on a goal in the 37th minute. Charging hard down the left sideline, Miguel Almirón crossed for Gressel, who chested the ball down and then hammered it off a volley into the upper left corner. It was Gressel’s third goal of the year and Almirón’s 14th assist, one off the league lead.
After halftime, Atlanta doubled the lead from Villalba in the 61st minute. Gressel took a throw-in along the right sideline and aimed for Josef Martinez, but the forward dummied off of a big hop, which led the ball straight to Villalba. There, the Argentine crushed a left-footed shot for the right corner, which ricocheted off the upright and into Nick Rimando’s back before trickling over the line for a 2-0 lead.
Real Salt Lake had just three attempts on target, two of which came in the final 10 minutes, but were comfortably saved by Brad Guzan. It was Guzan’s eighth shutout of the season and second in the club’s last three games.
Atlanta United (19-5-6, 63 points) returns to action next Sunday, Sept. 30 when it travels to play New York Red Bulls (1:00 p.m., ESPN, Sports Radio 92-9 The Game).
Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 0
Shots: 14-8 Atlanta
Shots on Target: 8-3 Atlanta
Corner kicks: 5-3 Atlanta
Fouls committed: 9-9
Saves: 6-3 Real Salt Lake
Clearances: 19-11 Real Salt Lake
Offside: 7-3 Real Salt Lake
Possession: 54-46 Real Salt Lake
Passing Accuracy: 88-84 Real Salt Lake
ATL – Julian Gressel (Miguel Almirón) 37’ [HIGHLIGHT]
ATL – Tito Villalba (Julian Gressel) 61’ [HIGHLIGHT]
RSL – Sunny (yellow) 43’
ATLANTA UNITED STARTING LINEUP
Brad Guzan; Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (Miles Robinson – 88’), Jeff Larentowicz ©, Franco Escobar; George Bello (Jose Hernandez – 73’), Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel; Tito Villalba (Ezequiel Barco – 81’), Miguel Almirón, Josef Martinez.
Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Kevin Kratz, Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams.
REAL SALT LAKE STARTING LINEUP
Nick Rimando; Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon (Sebastian Saucedo – 77’), Aaron Herrera; Sunny, Kyle Beckerman ©, Joao Plata; Damir Kreilach, Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino.
Substitutes not used: Andrew Puta, Luke Mulholland, Corey Baird, Nick Besler, Shawn Berry, Pablo Ruiz.
Chico Grajeda (referee), Corey Rockwell (assistant), Peter Manikowski (assistant), Ted Unkel (fourth), Kevin Terry Jr. (VAR).
- George Bello made his first professional start and became the eighth youngest player (16 years and 243 days) to start a game in MLS history.
- Jeff Larentowicz appeared in his 387th career game, good for fourth place all-time in MLS history by a field player.
- Larentowicz also started his 368th career MLS game, also ranking in fourth place in MLS history by a field player.
- Atlanta posted its eighth shutout of the season.
- Atlanta now has a +29-goal differential, best in MLS this season. That’s tied for the fifth-best mark in league history with San Jose Earthquakes (2012).
- Tito Villalba has scored in three consecutive matches, the best mark in his MLS career.
- Gressel and Almirón each have 14 assists, one off of the league-lead (Borek Dockal, Philadelphia).
- With the bye into the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Atlanta’s first playoff match will be on the road on Nov. 4.