Josef Martinez equaled history and got some scoring help from his teammates up front to power past a plucky Columbus Crew side in a memorable day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday.
With Franco Escobar back from his one-match suspension, Tata Martino reverted to the same starting lineup that was so successful on the road against Montreal earlier this month: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Tito Villalba (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Julian Gressel (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
It was a tense start, with both teams struggling to create chances against two well-drilled defenses. But it was Martinez once again who provided the moment of magic in front of goal to get the Five Stripes rolling. Julian Gressel was crucial in the play, intercepting a pass in midfield and playing Josef into space running toward the goal. But Josef didn’t need any help from there, with a devastating cut to put the defender on his heels and a vicious curling left-footed finish from the edge of the box that left Steffen with no chance in the Columbus goal.
Columbus came out hot from the second half, equalizing just five minutes in. But Atlanta United weren’t deterred, piling on the pressure as they looked to re-gain the lead. Miguel Almirón’s left-footed blast was a fingertip save away from the win, then Josef Martinez smacked the crossbar with a header that would have set the record for goals in a season. But it was a brilliant run from Tito Villalba that changed the match. Villalba got the ball at the midfield line and burst down the wing with his signature quickness and pace. The Argentine just couldn’t be stopped, dribbling past defender after defender in the Columbus box, slotting a left-footed finish back across goal and underneath the sprawling hand of Steffen.
The goal put Columbus on the ropes, but it took just four minutes for Atlanta United to put the match completely out of reach. It was another signature counter-attack from the back that set it up, with the ball ending on the foot of Josef Martinez at the edge of the box. But instead of a shot Martinez opted for a pass, laying it off for Almirón to launch an unstoppable left-foot finish inside the far post and in.
Ezequiel Barco, Kevin Kratz and Miles Robinson brought fresh legs off the bench to finish off the match in front of another raucous, sell-out crowd of 45,309 screaming fans in red, black and gold. The big win put Atlanta United back on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings at the end of the matchday, with Josef Martinez just one goal away from sitting alone atop the history books for the most goals in a season.
Next up is a four-match road trip for the Five Stripes, with Orlando City the next opponent coming up next weekend. They’ll be back on September 22nd to face Real Salt Lake in one of two remaining expanded configuration crowds of the year. Make sure you’re there to witness our road to the playoffs by reserving your tickets here.