A stormy night in Montreal proved to be pure thunder for the Five Stripes as Atlanta United topped the Impact 2-1 behind a brace from the MLS Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez.
Tata Martino elected to go with nearly the same lineup as last week only making one change, bringing in newest signing Eric Remedi into the XI for his first ever MLS start. The full XI facing Montreal: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (LM), Julian Gressel (RM), and Josef Martinez (ST).
The match started gritty and chippy with both sides trying to establish their presence on the field. Atlanta United maintained much of the possession but couldn’t quite find the final pass, and all Montreal could conjure up was a few shots from distance which were dealt with comfortably by Atlanta’s Brad Guzan.
The first real chance came in the 17th minute as Julian Gressel split a pair of Montreal defenders over the mid-stripe to find the feet of Miguel Almirón. The Paraguayan returned the ball to Gressel at the top of the area whose shot couldn’t get past Montreal’s Evan Bush. And just minutes later it was the Impact who nearly took the lead as Saphir Taider’s strike from a set piece looked like it may rip the back of the net but sailed just over the bar.
In the 27th minute, Atlanta thought they would surely take the advantage but again, Bush stood in the way of the away side. Michael Parkhurst lobbed the ball long to Josef Martinez who settled and played a through pass to Miguel Almirón in stride. His shot was parried by Bush, falling to Tito Villalba for another Atlanta chance, only to be deflected once again by Bush.
But with all the pressure, finally came the breakthrough, and it was none other than the Golden Boot leader himself, Mr. Josef Martinez. Miguel Almirón slid a pass past the Montreal back line and it seemed liked no one would latch on the end, but the pacey Tito Villalba caught up to the ball before it hit the end line. The Argentine sent a left-footed service across the six-yard box, skimming off a Montreal head, and eventually found the man who’s been dubbed the “Venezuelan Viper” who powered it home for the opening goal.
After a lightning delay extended the halftime break, the teams returned to a wet pitch to finish the final 45 minutes. It was clear Montreal wasn’t letting the scoreline affect their mindset on the night, as the second half started just as toe-to-toe as the first. But again, it was Atlanta’s lethal number seven who hushed the home fans.
Franco Escobar took the ball down the right flank and after battling through a few Montreal defenders, found a darting Julian Gressel. The German’s attempt at goal was first stopped by Bush, then Escobar followed up with another only to be saved off the line. But they couldn’t quite get the ball out of reach of Josef Martinez who pounced on the loose ball and put away his 24th goal of the season.
As the match winded down, it seemed Atlanta had the 3 points and clean sheet in their pocket, but Montreal’s maestro Nacho Piatti struck with minutes remaining to give the home side hope. However, Nacho’s magic would be halted at just one goal and Atlanta would finish the match on top 2-1.
Atlanta United now improves to 14-4-5 on the season, maintaining their lead at the top of the Supporters’ Shield and Eastern Conference standings. And Josef Martinez’s brace brings him to 24 goals in 23 games, continuing to lead the Golden Boot race and now just three goals away from tying the all-time MLS single-season scoring record.
Atlanta will return to regular season play next Saturday as they host reigning MLS Cup Champions Toronto FC, tickets for that match are still available here. But before that, you can watch some of ATL UTD’s stars face off against European giants Juventus on Wednesday at the MLS All-Star Game taking place in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Make sure you’re there for the big event by securing your All-Star ticket here.