It was a wild night out West for the 5-Stripes as they fought back from a two-goal deficit to eventually find a stoppage time winner and steal all three points in San Jose with a 4-3 score line. With the victory, Josef Martinez notched a brace to bring his Golden Boot leading tally to 30, Atlanta officially clinched a home playoff match and the Five Stripes are now four points clear of New York Red Bulls in the Supporters’ Shield race. A perfect week of results on the road as Atlanta heads back home with six out of six possible points.
With Darlington Nagbe making his return to the field last Saturday vs Colorado in a seventy-minute shift, Tata Martino elected to rest the midfielder for the midweek matchup in San Jose. Instead of #6, Wednesday saw Franco Escobar also make his return from injury after a month on the sidelines. The full starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (LCB), Micheal Parkhurst (RCB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Julian Gressel (RW), Tito Villalba (LW), and Josef Martinez (ST).
Unlike the match in Colorado, it was the home side who came out of the gates hot and Atlanta found themselves down early on. In the 13th minute, San Jose’s Nick Lima headed in a pinpoint cross from fellow fullback Shea Salinas to give the Quakes a 1-0 lead.
But Atlanta was hungry to overcome the early deficit, nearly equalizing on a few occasions. Some clever work on the sideline from Tito Villalba and Miguel Almirón in the 24th minute set Julian Gressel up at the top of the box but San Jose’s Marcinkowski perried away the long-range effort. Minutes later they’d get even closer as Martinez raced onto a through ball from Miguel Almirón and past the goalkeeper, laying it off for Villalba who’s attempt on goal was saved off the line by Quakes defender Guram Kashia.
But failing to convert any chances, Atlanta suffered another blow just before halftime as San Jose’s Danny Hoesen chased down a long ball, had his initial effort blocked from Guzan, but made no mistake on his second shot, slotting it into the far post to double the lead for the home side.
However, just as ATL UTD was about to enter the half 2-0 down, Villalba and Gressel conjured up a moment of magic to lift their side and spark some spirit. The German picked out the Argentine at the edge of the area with a perfectly-weighted pass. Villalba met the ball with his right foot and with a one-time effort, sent a curling shot past Marcinkowski and into the far post for perhaps the goal of the season so far.
While the 5-Stripes and the Atlanta faithful felt more confident bringing one back in style headed into halftime, it would be San Jose once again who struck first in the second 45. In the 58th minute, Valeri Qazaishvili cut in from the left flank and with some individual skill, weaved past a few defenders and extended the lead back to two.
In the 67th minute, the game would be turned on its head, shocking the fans and players on both sides. Chris Wondlowski had appeared to put the game out of reach at 4-1 after a fast break, but after video review, the referee discounted the goal and pointed to the spot on the other end, awarding a penalty to Atlanta due to a handball in the box prior to the San Jose sequence. And who else but Josef Martinez to step up and convert the penalty to bring the visitors within one.
Just minutes later, Atlanta would equalize. Martinez again found himself running at the San Jose back line and after a battle between him and Salinas sent them both to the ground, it was Miguel Almirón who cleaned up the play, pouncing on the loose ball and smashing it home to make it 3-3.
And if the game couldn’t get wilder, Atlanta would officially complete the comeback in stoppage time – none other than the Almirón/Martinez connection that produced the winner. With seconds left on the clock, Almirón sent a searching cross from the left edge of the area and picked out the head of Martinez who notched his 30th goal of the season and Atlanta’s fourth and final goal of the night.
A massive victory in many ways for Atlanta but perhaps most importantly, their three points in San Jose mean Atlanta United have clinched a home playoff match (cannot finish below 4th in the East) let alone their four point lead at the top of the Supporters’ Shield race over the Red Bulls.
After six points secured on the road, Atlanta returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday to host Real Salt Lake. Be there with 70K of the 5-Stripe family to welcome the boys back to the ATL by locking down your ticket here.