Daniel Rios scored late in the first half and Randall Leal added an insurance goal late in the second half Saturday as Nashville SC recorded its first road victory of the season, 2-0 over Atlanta United FC.
Though Atlanta (6-7-9, 27 points) held 61.3 percent of the possession in the first half, it was Nashville (8-2-11, 35 points) that got hot in the final minutes before the break. Hany Mukhtar delivered a quality header chance in the 43rd minute and two minutes later, Rios just missed to the right of goal.
But in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, Rios didn’t miss. Off a pass from Daniel Lovitz, Rios streaked in from the corner of the box and blazed a turf-runner past Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzman to stun the home side.
Atlanta continued to keep a bulk of the position in the second half, but never came through with the equalizer. Former French Ligue 1 performer Luiz Araujo was quite active in the box and star Josef Martinez barely missed wide on an up-close header opportunity during second-half stoppage time.
Then in the fifth minute of extra time in the second half, with Guzan pressing forward as Atlanta tried to find the equalizer, Leal registered a what amounted to an empty-netter for Nashville.
It clinched three points for Nashville on the road, where they had managed just four goals while going 0-2-5 heading into Saturday’s match. Gary Smith’s group is among the top teams in Eastern Conference thanks to a 7-0-6 mark at home, where it has boasted 28 goals, but had been nearly hapless on the road.
Meanwhile, the result ended Atlanta’s four-match winning streak in what was coach Gonzalo Pineda’s in-person debut with the squad after dealing with COVID-19 issues since being hired earlier this month.
The home side thought it was awarded a penalty shot within the first 10 minutes of the match after George Bello was tripped up near the box. However, VAR overturned the call when it was deemed he was just outside the box. Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis then punched away Ezequiel Barco‘s free-kick attempt.
Nashville has taken five points from three matches with Atlanta in 2021.