Late goals from Emerson Hyndman and Pity Martinez lifted Atlanta United to a 3-1 win over 10-man San Jose on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But the team may have bigger concerns because Josef Martinez had to subbed off in the 79th minute with with appeared to be a knee injury. Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said the team won’t have a diagnosis until Sunday.
The win secured at least one home game in the MLS playoffs and keeps alive Atlanta United’s hopes of finishing in first place in the East. The team trails NYCFC by three points. The Boys in Blue will play at Dallas on Sunday. Philadelphia, which dropped to third behind Atlanta United, will play at the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
Atlanta United can boost its hopes of a first-place finish with a victory at NYCFC on Wednesday. Finishing on top comes with a bye in the first round and home-field advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“It’s fantastic. Of course you want to perform on the highest level, but in this period you need three points,” de Boer said. “They fought for it and they were patient, and in the end we get the result we wanted. It wasn’t easy. That doesn’t count. We made a major step to secure third place and now we can look up and we have the advantage of playing our first playoff games at home.
“Second, hopefully, we can look even higher to the first spot. We have to have a major step next Wednesday.”
De Boer selected the same starting 11 that he used in Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Cincinnati: Goalkeeper Guzan, centerbacks Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, wingbacks Justin Gressel and Meram, defensive midfielders Eric Remedi and Darlington Nagbe, midfielders Hyndman and Pity Martinez, and striker Josef Martinez.
Atlanta United needed just four minutes to take a lead when a shot by Meram took a deflection and beat San Jose’s Daniel Vega. The shot was set up by a dummy by Josef Martinez, allowing the ball to go to Pity Martinez, whose pass found Meram about 25 yards from in the center of the pitch. His shot bounced off an onrushing San Jose defender. It was Meram’s fourth goal.
“Last game I had a chance to hit it first time at Cincy, and I took a touch,” Meram said of a missed shot. “This time the ball fell to me again, and I hit it first time. It took a fortunate deflection, but you don’t score unless you shoot.”
San Jose tied the score in the 27th minute when Cristian Espinoza won a header against Meram. Espinoza raced 40 yards to the end line, where his cross was put in by Guzan as he dove to his right to try to cut down the angle. It was ruled an own-goal against Guzan. The poor play started with Meram losing the aerial duel. Meram said couldn't foul Espinoza even if he caught up to him because he had already received a yellow card in the 24th minute. If Meram had received another he would have been ejected, leaving Atlanta United reduced to 10 players for the remainder of the game.
“It was unfortunate to go under Brad’s leg and go in,” Meram said.
Atlanta United caught a break in the 36th minute when Espinoza received his second yellow for stepping on Escobar. Espinoza was subsequently ejected, reducing San Jose to 10 men for the final 54 minutes. Espinoza received his first yellow card from referee Chris Penso in the 16th minute for jumping in front of an Atlanta United throw-in.
Atlanta United missed a chance to take a 2-1 lead when a shot by Hyndman from six yards sailed over the bar. To be fair, Hyndman wasn’t expecting the ball to come to him. It did because Florian Jungwith’s attempt at a clearance spun off his foot sideways two yards to the surprised Hyndman.
“I couldn’t believe it went wide, but thankfully I was able to redeem myself toward the end,” Hyndman said.
Still, de Boer said he wasn’t satisfied with his midfield, saying they didn’t create enough chances. The team created just one in the first half.
Atlanta United wasted another chance in the 54th minute when a short cross by Hyndman rolled across the front of the goal with no teammate near it because none made runs to the near post or back post. Instead, Gressel and Josef Martinez both ran to the penalty spot.
Wanting the three points, de Boer subbed on Hector Villalba for Meram in the 60th minute and striker Brandon Vazquez for Remedi in the 65th minute.
The two made an impact.
Villalba and Vazquez picked up assists on the final goal, scored by Martinez in the second minute of extra time. It was his fourth goal this season.
“It was good to see Tito get an assist, Brandon get an assist, Hyndman get a goal, Pity get a goal, guys that are haven’t really contributed have been playing really well and waiting for their chance,” Meram said. “It’s good to see that.”
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