Fighting through adversity is a key for any competitive team and Atlanta United’s determination was on full display Saturday, with Josef Martinez’s league-best thirteenth goal and a historic performance from Brad Guzan carrying them through an early Miguel Almirón injury for a road point in one of the toughest fixtures on the calendar.
Tata Martino stuck with consistency in his lineup for this match, lining up the 3-5-2 formation that’s been so successful for the team this year. The only change was Mikey Ambrose coming into the lineup in place of Chris McCann, after the Englishman was subbed off in the team’s last match against Philadelphia. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RCB), Mikey Ambrose (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
The game started with a pivotal moment that would have completely thrown off a lesser team. With both sides still settling into the match, a hard challenge from behind on Miguel Almirón brought the Paraguayan down hard to the Yankee Stadium turf. Almirón was down for an extended period, and though he bravely tried to fight through the pain, Atlanta United’s main creator was forced to come off with injury at halftime. But the Five Stripes regrouped, and after absorbing pressure for the first half hour, started to grow into the game. With Brad Guzan stepping up with a huge save one-on-one with Maxi Moralez, Atlanta United rebounded and kept the score level heading into halftime.
It was Romario Williams who re-emerged from the halftime tunnel in place of Almirón. It was a tactical change, bringing in a striker for a midfielder, and it took less than three minutes for the shift to pay off in a goal. Julian Gressel surged into the NYCFC half and hit a beautiful, trademark curling cross early in the move. With one defender split between Williams and Martinez, it opened a yard to free Josef Martinez inside the NYC box, who smashed a header into the pitch and bounced it over Sean Johnson and into the net. It brought the Venezuelan star to 13 goals on the season, another notch in his lead at the top of the Golden Boot race.
The Citizens were not about to let their six-match home win streak end without a fight. With their influence growing in the middle of the field, Tata brought on Kevin Kratz to solidify the team’s center. Then Brad Guzan took over, tallying up save after save with NYCFC pushing for an equalizer, aggressively commanding his box and notching a franchise-record nine saves in a man-of-the-match performance.
It took a set piece for NYCFC to find their breakthrough 13 minutes from time. In the 77th minute, a corner kick was diverted to the back post and Peruvian center back Alex Callens slidin and knocked it home at the back post. But that was the only time the Five Stripes defense would break, with Atlanta United going toe to toe in a physical match to grind out a valuable road point. It was the first time in seven matches that a team kept NYCFC out of the win column in their home venue, and keeps Atlanta United at the top of the Eastern Conference for another weekend.
The club announced that Almirón was forced off with a shoulder injury, so stay tuned to atlutd.com for the latest details on his status. But there’s no time to rest, with another huge test coming in just a few days in a tough away fixture against the Columbus Crew. The Five Stripes will then get the weekend to rest before returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next week to face the Chicago Fire in the fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve gotten yours here.