It was a night that will forever live in the Atlanta United history books, as Josef Martinez set the single-season MLS scoring record with his 28th goal of the season in a tense 2-1 win to clinch the season sweep over Orlando City.
Tata Martino was forced to shuffle his pack again with another injury nagging at the Atlanta United squad. With Franco Escobar out with injury, Julian Gressel proved his versatility once again by pushing back into the right back spot, and Ezequiel Barco returning to the starting lineup on the left wing. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Julian Gressel (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Ezequiel Barco (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
It was a tight opening stretch, with Atlanta United poking and prodding at Orlando’s packed-in defense. But their pressure finally paid off with a goal in the 21st minute, and it came from an unlikely source. Ezequiel Barco’s teasing ball from a free kick sailed over the heads of the Atlanta attackers, but they did enough to put off Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who fumbled the ball in front of net. Leandro González Pirez was the quickest to pounce, poking home the loose ball for his first goal of the season.
Orlando City would bounce back with a goal of their own just before the stroke of halftime, but Atlanta United weren’t steered off their mission. After a regroup at halftime, the squad came out with constant pressure starting in the first minute. A signature mazy run from Miguel Almirón nearly set up Tito Villaba to take the lead, then Eric Remedi was a goal-line clearance away from scoring his first of the year.
But in the end, it had to be Josef Martinez – the Golden Boot leader – to drive home the dagger and take the lead. Once again it was Julian Gressel setting it all up, with the German playing a beautiful give & go with Tito Villalba on the wing to burst into space. A decisive run from Miguel Almirón pulled the defenders away from Martinez, and Gressel put it perfectly onto the Venezuelan’s path. That’s all he needed, cutting back viciously to put the goalkeeper on the ground and sending a sumptuous chip over Bendik and into the net. It was his 28th of the year, the most ever in MLS, with 8 matches still to go. And there’s another record in sight: this was his ninth straight match with a goal, tying the MLS record for a goalscoring streak.
But the job wasn’t done, and Brad Guzan in particular stood tall with a stunning save to keep the lead just over ten minutes from the final whistle. Miles Robinson, Kevin Kratz and Romario Williams brought in fresh legs and finished out the match. The 2-1 win meant Atlanta United sweeps the season series against Orlando City, and more importantly, extends their lead at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings to five points, with one more match played.
Atlanta United now heads back home to rest up and prepare for their next road match, their second in a four-match run away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Next up: a resurgent D.C. United fighting for playoff aspirations of their own. The team will be back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 22nd to face Real Salt Lake, make sure you’ve reserved your tickets here.