Another hat trick for Josef Martinez powered Atlanta United to a dominant home victory over Vancouver, the team’s second win in two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Head coach Tata Martino made only one change from the lineup that was dominant in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium opener last weekend. With an eye on Vancouver’s aerial ability, he brought in Chris McCann in place of Greg Garza on the left wing to bring some extra height to combat Vancouver’s set piece threat. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (CB), Chris McCann (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
It was a tight opening stretch, with Atlanta United settling into their high-pressing possession play against a compact Vancouver defense. But that all changed in the 15th minute. After video review, Vancouver's captain Kendall Waston was handed a red card for an aggressive elbow on Leandro González Pirez. With the heart of the Whitecaps defense sent to the stands, Josef Martinez was ice cold from the spot, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and calmly sliding the ball into the corner.
Atlanta would dominate the play from there with the man advantage, pinning the Whitecaps back into the box for long stretches of the match. It was only a matter of time before the second breakthrough would come off the foot of a Vancouver player just before the hour mark. A slick spell of passing play ended on the foot of Julian Gressel, who proved to be a threat on the right wing the entire match. Just like he did for Miguel Almirón last week, the German hit a first-time pass into the path of Josef Martinez in the box. While the Whitecaps defender was able to get there first, he could only direct it into his own net.
Atlanta’s signature scoring spree came again Saturday, with the third goal coming just three minutes later. Miguel Almirón drove into a pocket of space in the center of Vancouver’s midfield and hit a perfectly-timed through ball behind the Whitecaps defense. Josef Martinez had all the time he needed, with a shift of the hips sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and slotting home his second of the match.
A bit of sloppy play at the back gave Vancouver a ray of hope with a late consolation goal, but Atlanta United would put it beyond any doubt just minutes from the final whistle. Second-half substitute Andrew Carleton created an opening on the right corner of the penalty box and floated a perfectly-lobbed pass for Josef Martinez to slam home from close range with his head. It was Carleton’s first-ever MLS assist, and Josef Martinez’s fourth hat trick of his MLS career. That puts him just one behind the league record, with only 23 games played so far for the Venezuelan international.
That would wrap things up, with another dominant victory in front of a sold-out 45,003 person crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United pulls up to third place in the Eastern Conference at the time of the final whistle after seven goals and two wins in back-to-back matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They’ll now get a week off for the international break before heading on the road to face Minnesota United on March 31st. They’ll be back in Atlanta the following week, hosting 2018 expansion side LAFC on April 7th. Tickets to that match are still available, make sure you’ve secured yours here.