After a frustrating few weeks, a sweet feeling for the Five Stripes Saturday as Atlanta United cruised to a 3-1 win over a 9-man Philadelphia Union.
Despite the short week of rest, Tata Martino fielded much of the same lineup as Wednesday night’s draw with the Revolution. Leandro González Pirez returned from suspension in the back line, with Chris McCann sliding over to left wing back in place of Mikey Ambrose. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (CB), Chris McCann (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
The match started slowly –– with both teams trying to regain their legs after hard-fought mid-week matches –– but it blew open in dramatic fashion in the 21st minute. Josef Martinez got behind the Philadelphia defense and was brought down in the box, with the ref pointing to the spot. But the penalty goal wasn’t all: two Philadelphia Union players protested the call and were each sent off after an altercation with the ref, leaving the Union with nine players for the ensuing 70 minutes of the match.
Atlanta United went in cruise control from there, dominating possession and slowing down the game with methodical passing that wore down the Philadelphia defense. End product wasn’t lacking on this night, though, with Atlanta United setting a new franchise record on the night with 31 shots. Andre Blake stood tall in the Philadelphia goal, keeping the Union in it with a string of saves, but it only lasted so long, with the Five Stripes finally breaking through for a second time just after halftime. It was a goal made on the left wing, with Mikey Ambrose playing Miguel Amirón in behind the defense, with the Paraguayan creator finding Josef Martinez for an easy finish in the middle to tap home.
However, Philadelphia didn’t go down without a fight. Fafa Picault snuck a goal past Brad Guzan to make it a one-goal game, but Atlanta United’s pressure was too much to handle in the end, with Julian Gressel’s cross batted away in the box for a handball. Josef Martinez stepped up to the spot and slammed home his third of the night, his fifth career MLS hat trick, tying the league record for career three-goal performances.
Atlanta United cruised to the finish line in front of 45,140 screaming fans, coming out 3-1 winners on the night and securing a crucial three points to get them back into the win column. The victory kept the Five Stripes at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings with 29 points on the season. They’ll be back in league action with two tough road games against New York City FC and the Columbus Crew before returning home to face the Portland Timbers later this month. But before that, Atlanta United will take on the Charleston Battery in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup this Wednesday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw. Tickets for that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.