Atlanta United keeps rolling.
An “I’ll take it” short-range goal from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and a skilled, dipping long-range shot from Josef Martinez lifted Atlanta United to a 2-0 victory over Portland Sunday at Providence Park in a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup.
The win pushed Atlanta United (14-9-3) into first place with 45 points in the MLS Eastern Conference. It was Atlanta United’s seventh victory in eight games across all competitions, third in eight days, and snapped its losing streak in league games on the road at six.
“A win is always satisfying; that is the most important thing,” said Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer. “You look at how you got the win and I think we fully deserved to win.”
Martinez’s goal was his 21st this season and extended his league record scoring streak to 11 games. Martinez trails LAFC’s Carlos Vela by three for the Golden Boot. Atlanta United will play Friday at Orlando.
It wasn’t an easy win for the Five Stripes. Portland created several good scoring chances, particularly in the first half. Despite playing without injured starters Eric Remedi and Franco Escobar, Atlanta United’s backline held firm. When they did break, Brad Guzan was there with one left-handed save in the second half that should go on his career highlight reel. The shutout extended Guzan’s league lead to 12.
“I was just able to react, it’s simple,” Guzan said.
De Boer selected on Sunday most of the players who started Wednesday’s Campeones Cup victory over Club America: Guzan, centerbacks Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Flo Pogba, with right wingback Julian Gressel and left wingback Justin Meram. The defensive midfielders were Jeff Larentowicz and Darlington Nagbe. The attacking trident was Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez.
Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead when Gonzalez Pirez poked in a rebound in the 14th minute. The goal came from a corner kick. Josef Martinez was the first to reach Pity Martinez’s free kick. Julio Cascante cleared the shot off the line, but the ball bounced off Gonzalez Pirez for his first goal this season.
“Goals change games,” Guzan said. “I told Leandro it doesn’t matter how they go in, they all count the same.”
Portland increased its pressure in an attempt to find the tying goal. A tying goal was called back for offside on Brian Fernandez. Meram calmly gathered a dangerous ball and dribbled out of the goal mouth to quell another moment of danger.
Atlanta United caught a break in 35th minute when Fernandez put a shot over the crossbar from 2 yards away.
As the Timbers pushed forward, gigantic spaces were left behind and Atlanta United began to find success again.
First, Barco was stopped by Steve Clark in a one-on-one. A few minutes later, Pity Martinez was tackled from behind by Bill Tuiloma in the penalty box near the end of the half. Referee Armando Villarreal allowed play to continue. He did communicate with the VAR but declined to review the sequence on one of the monitors.
“I thought it was a penalty,” de Boer said.
Atlanta United took a 2-0 lead in the 46th minute when Gressel split three defenders with a 40-yard pass to Josef Martinez, who ran into space behind the defense. Gressel said he looked up, saw Martinez running the line and tried to squeeze the pass into the space.
Martinez curled his shot over Clark to temporarily silence the raucous supporters on that end of the field. The goal was Martinez’s 26 across all competitions.
“What a finish that was, whoo!” Gressel said.
Guzan said he thought the team showed tired legs in the second half, but didn’t suffer because most of the chances came from distance.
“It’s a very good compliment to the team to see what kind of effort they brought today against a really good opponent, especially here they are quite difficult to beat,” de Boer said. “How we did it and the way we did it made me really proud.”
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