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Atlanta- The Atlanta United (7-7-3, 24 points) nearly played a flawless second half to defeat the Colorado Rapids (5-10-1, 16 points) 1-0.
Both teams started out penetrating to the opposing final third but neither could capitalize. The referees called a tight game from the beginning causing players from each squad to complain.
Atlanta tried their best to attack with arguably the best group of midfielders in the league but the Rapid defensemen stood stout not allowing them to get inside the 18-yard box.
United’s defender Greg Garza was able to get deep and do a couple of nutmegs (crossover) to get pass the defender and centered to midfielder Josef Martinez who just missed wide off a header.
In the 30th minute, the referees ordered a three minute cooling break because of the high temperature allowing the players to hydrate. Per MLS rules, the threshold for a mandatory hydration break occurs at 82 degrees on the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT).
Colorado had an opportunity to score twice. Once off a 30 ft kick that was misread by goalkeeper Alec Kahn that bounced off the goal post.
Then the next minute, there was a questionable play by midfielder Kevin Doyle. Doyle had a breakaway and appeared to use his wrist to stop the momentum of a pass and got a shot on goal. Khan made a save using his chest to keep the game scoreless.
At the half, the game was scoreless with the Rapids playing aggressively with seven shots on goal while United had three shots.
Atlanta started the second half very aggressive getting into the 18 yard box twice including a header by Martinez that went over the head of goalkeeper Tim Howard that landed on top of the net.
The United kept the pressure on with a two-on-one break lead by Miguel Almiron who attempted a pass to Martinez inside the 18-yard box which was blocked by Howard.
Martinez stayed active by connecting on a bicycle kick on goal but Howard made a diving save.
Later on in the 67th minute, Martinez finally scored on a crossover and dart just past Howard for an Atlanta goal (assisted by Brandon Vazquez). “A guy of his talent, you don’t want to give him that much time and space,” said Howard.
The temperature played a part once again causing the referees to call a cooling period for three minutes at the 76th minute.
Martinez was subbed in by Julian Gressel and received a standing ovation by the sold out crowd.
After five minute of stoppage time added, Colorado threatened. During a corner kick late in the stoppage time, Khan made a save from a header in the last play of the game to secure the win.
Atlanta finished with 14 shots on goal, 11 in the second half alone vs the Rapids 10 shots and only two in the second half.
The United will return action on Wednesday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m. against Miami FC in the Round of 16 in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
COL – Dennis Castillo (yellow) 36’
COL – Joshua Gatt (yellow) 48’
COL – Kevin Doyle (yellow) 73’
ATL – Miguel Almiron (yellow)