At last: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez opens Atlanta United’s new home with long-awaited goal

ATLANTA — Talk about picking your moment for a breakthrough.

No one on Atlanta United’s roster had produced more shots on goal this season without hitting the back of the net than Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. But Sunday in the 14th minute of the first MLS game at shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Pirez finally got his.

The defender slid into a header from Hector Villalba and sent it past FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez and into the backpost in Atlanta’s 3-0 rout.

“When the ball came to me, I just tried to hit it across goal,” Pirez said. “Maybe with the turf it took a little bit different bounce than how I wanted it to go, but luckily it still went in.”

The shot was the sixth of the season for Pirez, whose chances coming into Sunday were equal to Julian Gressel, who had three goals.

Josef Martinez and Greg Garza followed with goals of there own in a game that Atlanta United thoroughly dominated.

The hosts had 11 shots on goal to Dallas’ two and had possessed the ball 53.8 percent of the time, just below their season average of of 58.2 (second best in MLS), and keeper Brad Guzan had his second shutout in six games.

“From start to finish we knew we had to give them something to cheer about and the first goal obviously changed the game,” Guzan said.

The match, however key in jockeying for playoff position as Atlanta sits six in the Eastern Conference standings, was truly about the spectacle that is the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United went 6-2-1 at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, and while those confines were dated, it gave the new franchise an undeniable home-field advantage.

So what of Mercedes-Benz, where 45,314 packed in for the first professional sporting event at the state-of-the-art facility?

“This one’s up there for sure,” said Guzan, who made 154 appearances in many a hallowed ground in the English Premier League. “In terms of the atmosphere, in terms of the walk out, everything about this stadium is world-class. For us to call this place home? Pretty lucky.”

As expected for an expansion club, this has been a season of firsts, and with the move to Mercedes-Benz, the clock started on them all again Sunday.

But for Pirez, the clock has been running since the 2014-15 season when he had his last goals while playing for Club Atletico Tigre in Argentina’s Primera Division.

That it finally happened with the pomp and circumstance of the long-awaited debut at Atlanta United’s new home?

“It’s a great joy to score the first goal in this stadium,” Pirez said. “Over the course of years and history, it will always go down as the first goal, so that’s something I’ll always remember. But the important thing is it served a purpose and helped our team win today.”

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.