“We’re alive”: Atlanta United put tumultuous week behind them with season-saving win

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What started off as a disastrous week ended on a high note for Atlanta United.

Following the arrest of injured center back Miles Robinson and the one-game suspension of club legend Josef Martinez for conduct detrimental to the team after their Week 29 2-1 loss at the Portland Timbers, the Five Stripes were on the verge of watching their season go down in flames ahead of Saturday’s must-win game against Toronto FC.

But Atlanta showed true character in front of their home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and kept their slim Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoff hopes alive by pulling off a wild 4-2 victory thanks to an unlikely hat trick from defender Juan Jose Purata and another golazo from Thiago Almada.

An unlikely hero

With Martinez out, head coach Gonzalo Pineda opted to give Dom Dwyer the nod up top for the former US international’s second start of the season.

No one, though, expected a hat trick from Purata, whose three goals all came off headers. Scoreless in 26 appearances with Tigres UANL in Liga MX before his summer loan to Atlanta, he’s now third on the team with six goals in just 13 MLS matches, and is making a strong case for the club to pick up his option in 2023.

Pineda mentioned while Purata’s skill in the air was brought up in discussions with Tigres, the 24-year-old was “outperforming expectations” in that department. That said, the manager credited the team as a whole for providing those opportunities.

“It’s everyone. It’s creating the chances to get corners. It’s the guys that take the corners, they are hitting the balls. The movement that we are trying to use, the decoys, the blockers, the second balls,” Pineda said. “It’s a whole package that obviously is helping Purata to shine on set pieces as well.”

Purata echoed that sentiment.

“It’s not common for a central defender to score three goals, but tonight it happened to me,” he said through a translator. “But it’s because of the work from everyone on the team…It’s not just the work of one person, not two or three people, not even the 11 players on the field. It’s the work of everyone in this locker room.”

Staying alive

Atlanta’s postseason hopes remain faint, but they’re still not out of the race with four matches to go: They’re currently 10th in the Eastern Conference table with 36 points — five below the playoff line.

Now, with rival Orlando City SC up next at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday (6:00 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), a team that has a 1W-9L-5D record away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium must solve their road woes. That’s on top of the fact that Atlanta are yet to win back-to-back matches at any point this season.

“We have to do our part, which is going game by game, trying to win every game,” Pineda said. “But not just the result, which ultimately is what defines our jobs, but it’s the performance. The type of performance that we showed today is similar to what we want from the team.”

“We deserved a victory after suffering two defeats away from home,” Purata said. “We’re alive, we’re in the fight, and we’re not going to stop fighting until we achieve what we want.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Atlanta United FC vs. Toronto FC | September 10, 2022

“We’re alive”: Atlanta United put tumultuous week behind them with season-saving win

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