Maybe Atlanta United needs more weeks full of drama.
In a feel-good performance similar to some from the previous two seasons, the Five Stripes scored one goal but defeated the L.A. Galaxy 3-0 thanks to two own goals Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“If we keep up this level, this standard, I think it’s very hard for every team to beat us,” manager Frank de Boer said. “I’m really proud of the team how they performed today.”
Josef Martinez converted a penalty for the third goal, which marked his ninth consecutive league game with a goal. That tied an MLS record held by Martinez and Portland’s Diego Valeri.
The own goals were created by passes from Pity Martinez and Justin Meram in front of announced attendance of 72,548, a record for a regular-season MLS game. It broke the previous record of 72,243 set by Atlanta United against Seattle on July 15.
The victory moves Atlanta United (12-9-3) into a tie with Philadelphia for first place in the MLS East, with 39 points from 24 games. The Union will play at D.C. United on Sunday. Atlanta United will play at Orlando on Tuesday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
“I think we are capable and quality to be on top and in first,” de Boer said. “With the quality we have we have to compete for first place. I’m glad right now we are. This is what we want. This is our goal to be on top when the season ends.”
Atlanta United improved to 9-1-3 at home, with goalkeeper Brad Guzan posting his league-best 11th shutout.
After a week of drama that included one player complaining about Frank de Boer’s tactics, another taking a swipe on social media after his knee injury turned out not to be as bad as de Boer first reported, and a satirical tweet about supporters walking out of the stadium before Saturday’s game in protest being taken somewhat seriously by others on social media, the choice of picking 11 players from a roster that’s getting healthy sooner rather than later probably was a relief.
De Boer selected goalkeeper Brad Guzan, centerbacks Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson and Flo Pogba in for the suspended Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Jeff Larentowicz and Darlington Nagbe were the defensive midfielders with Julian Gressel and Meram as the wingbacks on the right and left. Ezequiel Barco slotted in at attacking midfielder for his first league start since May 5, with Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez as the strikers.
The Galaxy were missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic (yellow-card accumulation), who has been single-handedly changing games for 20 years, and Efrain Alvarez and Diego Polenta, who received red cards in their previous match.
The first half started much like the second half of last week’s LAFC game: wide open.
Atlanta United struck first when Pity Martinez’s cross was turned into the goal by Galaxy defender Dave Romney in the 23rd minute.
The Galaxy gifted Atlanta United another own goal, this time by Giancarlo Gonzalez, in the 43rd minute to give Atlanta United a 2-0 lead. The cross was hit by Justin Meram, with Josef Martinez closing down Gonzalez.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 3-0 on a penalty kick by Josef Martinez in the 72nd minute. The penalty was the result of Emerson Hyndman being taken down in the box near the 68th minute. The goal was Martinez’s 68th in the past three seasons, tying a record set by Bradley Wright-Phillips.
“The important this is to win,” Martinez said. “They are just numbers. They are just goals. As a forward you always want to score and you want to win games. If I had scored today, but we had lost, I wouldn’t even be talking to you guys.”
De Boer said the drama, combined with the change in formation made a few games ago, has combined to give Atlanta United a focus that it may have been missing earlier this season.
“Sometimes, you know, things happen that can have a great influence,” de Boer. “We had the unfortunate injury to Brek Shea. We thought the best is three in the back right now with three good, fast defender. This could work. We feel happy with it.
“We want to attack and press as high as possible. Sometimes, the things you said help to get you over the wall and suddenly you are free.”
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