Atlanta United again defeats Orlando City

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Atlanta United)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Atlanta United)

Credit: Carmen Mandato

Credit: Carmen Mandato

Josef Martinez seems to love scoring and beating Orlando City more than he does any other MLS team.

Martinez’s 22nd goal this season, and seventh all-time against the Lions, proved the difference in Atlanta United’s 1-0 win on Friday at Exploria Stadium. Martinez extended his MLS record by scoring in his 12th consecutive league game as Atlanta United improved to 7-0-2 against Orlando.

“For me, I enjoy scoring against all teams, but when you do it against a team whose fans are yelling stuff at you before the game, I received a lot of messages from Orlando fans,” Martinez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Your play on the field is the best way to talk. When you perform against a team’s fan base like that, it makes it even better.”

The victory, Atlanta United’s sixth consecutive across all competitions, will keep the team in first place in the Eastern Conference with 48 points no matter Philadelphia’s result against D.C. United on Saturday.

Though it may consider itself fortunate considering Orlando created, 17 chances Atlanta United posted its league-leading 13th shutout on legs that seemed tired, even in the first half. The Lions had 18 shots through 85 minutes, but put just four on goal.

“It was hot,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Also, the stretch we can see it during the game. We weren’t that fresh. A lot of mistakes. Easy passes didn’t end well. It’s fantastic that we had a result like this.”

Atlanta United now must rest ahead of hosting Minnesota in the U.S. Open Cup championship game on Tuesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

De Boer said on Wednesday that he was going to put out a strong lineup. He put out his strongest with Brad Guzan in goal and a centerback trio of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Flo Pogba. Eric Remedi, who missed the past two games with an adductor injury, started at defensive midfielder with Darlington Nagbe. Julian Gressel and Justin Meram were the wingbacks on the right and left, with an attacking trident of Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez.

Orlando came out hot, producing five good scoring chances in the first 10 minutes. The best came when Benji Michel beat Pogba to the end line. Michel’s cross rolled through the penalty box without an Orlando player  able to reach it. Nagbe cleared the danger in the eighth minute.

Its chances kept coming, but Orlando, wasteful on offense much of the season, kept misfiring to leave the game tied at 0-0 at the half.

Orlando’s ineptitude scoring proved costly when Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scored in the 60th minute. He and Barco combined down the middle with Barco, facing right, laying the ball off to his left to Martinez to curl a shot into the lower right corner. It was the same end of the stadium that he scored in last season to break the single-season scoring record with his 28th goal. It was Atlanta United’s first shot on goal in the half and second in the game.

“We get a moment to put them away. We did,” Meram told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They had a couple and couldn’t get the job done in the box.”

Orlando didn’t quit.

Carlos Ascues sliced a close-range shot just wide of the goal a few minutes later. Tesho Akindele put a shot wide of the same post after he was cleverly played into space in the middle of the penalty box.

Josef Martinez got behind Orlando’s defense and tried to chip Rowe, but his shot bounced off the post in the 69th minute.

Martinez was stopped by Rowe in another one-on-one in the 80th minute.

“You have these kinds of games during the season and we have to be happy to be on the good side right now,” de Boer said.

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