The clock ticks past 90 minutes, the team’s talisman and leading goalscorer has been forced off the pitch with the score knotted up at 1-1. It’s a big moment in the season, and a time when a team has to dig deep. That’s just what Atlanta United did, with two stoppage-time goals to secure a 3-1 home win over the San Jose Earthquakes Saturday to clinch a home-field postseason match.
Atlanta United rolled out the same lineup that won in the midweek matchup versus Cincinnati, with Mo Adams coming onto the bench in place of Dion Pereira as the only change in the matchday 18. Frank de Boer’s full Starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (DEF), Miles Robinson (DEF), Franco Escobar (DEF), Julian Gressel (DEF), Eric Remedi (MID), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Emerson Hyndman (MID), Justin Meram (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Pity Martinez (FWD).
Atlanta United seized the match early, and the pressure paid off with a goal less than five minutes into the match. It started with Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the field, feeding a low pass into Josef Martinez, who flicked it on to Pity Martínez at the top of the box. The defender poked the ball loose but only as far as Justin Meram, who let loose from 5 yards outside the box, deflecting off the defender and into the net.
San Jose didn’t go down easily though and fought back into the match, earning an equalizer in the 27th minute. But a match-changing moment came just seven minutes later, with San Jose’s Cristian Espinoza earning his second yellow card in the first to send his team down to ten men. But San Jose sit very deep after that, often lining up with a seven-man back line to help compensate for the man deficit. Atlanta United was relentless with their pressure, but struggled to find the final moment of magic for the breakthrough, despite the introduction of Tito Villalba and Brandon Vazquez into the match. When Josef Martinez was forced off with injury, it would have been a gut punch for many teams. But Mo Adams entered the match, and the team kept up their relentless pressure until the final whistle.
In the 90th minute, their attacking paid off. It came from a sensational play from Darlington Nagbe, with a trademark shimmying dribble to skip past two players in the midfield. He set up the man advantage in the counter attack and found Emerson Hyndman in space, who was clinical to take a touch and blast the winner past the goalkeeper.
The match was wide open from there and Atlanta United took advantage of the space in behind the Earthquakes defense. Tito Villalba burned down the left wing, and passed it on to Brandon Vazquez behind the defense, who cut it back to Pity Martínez alone on the penalty spot. He was ruthless to smack it off the far post and in to secure the 3-1 lead.
The win secured at least one first-round home playoff match for Atlanta United, but the team is hungry for more. They’re right back in action on Wednesday on the road against NYCFC in a major top-of-the-conference matchup. They’ll be back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for their final home match of the regular season against the New England Revolution –– click here to reserve your ticket now.