ATLANTA — Jeff Larentowicz said the plan was a simple one.
“After last week, the goal was just to win,” the Atlanta United midfielder stated Sunday following United’s 3-1 victory over DC United in front of another raucous, MLS recording-breaking crowd of 72,035 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We did not execute last week and it was a hard lesson for us. ‘Commitment’ was something we talked about and it was on the board all week. We made some changes and I think that helped. All we were looking for for was a win any way we could get it,” Larentowicz added.
“But the crowd has been a contributing factor since we’ve been in this building, and it’s a lot of fun to play in front of them.”
The most notable change was United coach Gerardo Martino switching to a 3-5-2 formation in an effort to get more attackers in the midfield and more help in the back.
“It’s something we’ve been looking at and we saw an opportunity today to try it,” Martino said through an interpreter. “I thought it worked well for most of the game. We wanted to get more bodies in the midfield.
“Commitment was important, especially in the response coming off last week. I think the commitment was there today.”
The Five Stripes (1-1-0) were coming off a dismal performance in a 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in last week's season opener. The change appeared to give them the momentum Martino was looking for.
The United offense looked like the hard-charging, aggressive offensive group that became just the fourth team in MLS history with 70-plus goals last season. They pushed the ball at every opportunity and put the DC defenders on their heels right from start.
In the first half, United posted 9 shots to DC’s one with four shots inside the box. United had a nearly two-to-one time of possession in the opening 45 minutes.
Still, 23 minutes in the match was a scoreless draw -- despite United’s Julian Gressel and Miguel Almiron taking turns probing the DC defense and producing several solid scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe, a key offseason acquisition that struggled in his first match last week, showed why they went and got him. United’s first goal started with a Nagbe steal and pass to Hector Villalba, who streaked down the right side before threading a seeing-eye cross through two defenders to Josef Martinez, who beat DC keeper David Ousted for a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute.
Martino said Nagbe will need to be a key element and demonstrated what he could do against DC.
“He improved a lot from last week. He had a little trouble settling into what we wanted to do last week but he played very well (Sunday),” Martino said.
United continued to press the attack into the second half nursing its 1-0 lead when they got the breathing room they needed in a 153-second span. Almiron extended the lead to 2-0 in the 73rd minute with a pinpoint blast past Ousted that was set up by nifty passes from Gressel and Villalba. Two minutes later Villalba provided the back-breaker on an acrobatic header over the outstretched arms of Ousted for a 3-0 advantage.
“We had a lot more patience to take control of the ball and the game,” Almiron said. “We moved the ball a lot better in the second half.”
The only blemish came in the 86th minute when DC’s Darren Mattocks cut the lead to 3-1, knocking in a deflected pass past Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan.
The new formation was a hot topic in the post game interviews. However, both Larentowicz and Martino said not to make too much out of it one way or another. For the game Atlanta outshot DC 16-7 and controlled the ball 53 to 46 percent.
“For me, execution always trumps formation,” Larentowicz said. “We did some good things. But really the more we have the ball the less the other team has it and the fewer shots they get. That was a big part of things (Sunday).”
“It gave us more security today on the back end as well as some opportunities on offense. But I don’t know if we’ll play this way all the time. It was good for today. We’ll see down the road,” Martino said.
Atlanta fans will get that chance on Saturday as the Five Strips play host to Vancouver at The Benz in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
NOTES: It was the first-ever victory for Atlanta over DC after the Five Stripes dropped all three matches in 2017. ... Powder Springs native Andrew Carleton got into the match in the final minutes and made a nice sliding tackle on the defensive end that brought most of The Benz crowd to its feet. ... DC had just one shot on target, which came on Mattocks' goal.