Another goal by striker Josef Martinez and a record-setting day by goalkeeper Brad Guzan were enough for Atlanta United to secure a 1-1 draw with NYCFC on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Martinez scored his league-leading 13th goal on a header early in the second half, and Guzan made it enough to split the points with nine saves, breaking the previous club record of seven set by Alec Kann against Toronto last season.
“Tough, and unfair,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “I think it was probably the first point we’ve taken without deserving it.”
The draw moves Atlanta United (9-3-3) to 30 points, still the most in MLS, and NYCFC (8-3-4) to 28 points. Atlanta United will play at Columbus on Wednesday in another important game between Eastern Conference powers.
“It’s good to take a point,” Guzan said. “That can’t go unnoticed. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we’re better on Wednesday. We have to get pressure on the ball. We have to make sure that we close guys down. We need to have a stronger mentality when we’re not in possession of the ball how we’re going to deal with it. They’re a good team. We knew that coming in. We knew it was a hard place to come. But we were up for the challenge, and the guys in there left everything on the field.”
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The team may have to play the Crew without MVP candidate Miguel Almiron, who suffered a shoulder injury in the second minute and was subbed off at the start of the second half. Almiron stayed down after he was tackled from behind by Alexander Ring. After he was examined by trainers, Almiron stood up, grabbing his left shoulder. He re-entered the game a few minutes later. Martino said he doesn’t think the injury is serious.
Similar to the game at Minnesota United earlier this season when Atlanta United played with 10 men because of a red card, the team mostly stayed back, soaking up NYCFC’s pressure throughout. Guzan, wearing his big orange gloves, was everywhere, making jumping saves, saves with his feet and diving saves to his left and right in a man-of-the-match performance that likely will put him into the MLS team of the week. NYCFC finished with 25 shots, and approximately 60 percent of the possession. At least three of NYCFC’s shots hit the posts, including one in injury time.
“He was the best player on the field,” Martino said.
After pressuring Atlanta United’s goal most of the first half, NYCFC almost broke through when Maxi Moralez got behind the defense following a slip by Michael Parkhurst. Guzan came out of his goal and took the ball off Moralez’s foot to end the threat.
Three minutes later, Guzan was again forced into action when he tipped a deflected, looping shot over his crossbar.
Atlanta United broke through in the 48th minute on a header by Martinez, who got between NYCFC’s defenders to catch up to a long cross from Julian Gressel. It was Martinez’s league-leading 13th goal and Gressel’s fifth assist.
“After that, New York became the better team,” Martino said.
Guzan, huge throughout, came off his line to stop a Villa breakaway in the 60th minute, and then palmed away his free kick less than a minute later.
NYCFC tied the score at 1-1 on a goal by Callens in the 77th minute. The tying goal came on a corner kick. Villa ran onto the corner at the near post, heading it across the goal to Callens at the back post.
Still, Atlanta United became the first team to take a point from Yankee Stadium this season.
“It says that Brad (Guzan) had a terrific game for us,” Parkhurst said. “He was a wall back there. Countless big time saves for us first half and second half. He really preserved a point for us. The rest of the team, we did what we could. There were some good tackles in there. Some hard-fought moments. Some tired legs running at the end, but we all dug deep, and when we weren’t good enough, Brad (Guzan) was.”