Atlanta United win streak snapped by Philadelphia

Josef Martinez’s 23rd goal this season, and his 13th consecutive in a league game, was offset by a goal from Brenden Aaronson and two late ones from Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos in a battle between the top two teams in the East. With the loss, Atlanta United stays at 48 points and falls into second behind the Union, which has 51 points. It could fall to as far as third in the East depending upon NYCFC’s result at Vancouver late Saturday.

After playing its eighth game since Aug. 3, which included winning two trophies, Atlanta United will have two weeks off before it hosts Columbus on Sept. 14. 

“I’m very proud of them, what they achieved,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said.  “Until 65-70, maybe we were the better team. We had our chances to make it 2-0. In the end, we ran out of steam.”

Atlanta United received a scare in the 81st minute when Martinez had to be helped off the field after tackling goalkeeper Andre Blake. Martinez did return but the Union punished the tough miss with two late goals against tired legs and minds.

“You can talk about a lot of things, but every time we step on the pitch we expect to put in a performance that allows us a chance to win the game,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “Tonight, we didn’t do that for a long enough time.”

De Boer made a few changes to the starting 11 that he’s been using. Jeff Larentowicz moved into the three-man backline in place of Flo Pogba because de Boer said he wanted him to press if the Union played a diamond midfield. He joined Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez playing in front of Guzan. The defensive midfielders were Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi. Julian Gressel started at right wingback with Dion Pereira replacing Justin Meram at left wingback. Emerson Hyndman replaced the injured Ezequiel Barco at attacking midfielder with Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez as the strikers. 

Philadelphia had the better chances early with Marco Fabian hitting the post with a hard shot in the 10th minute. 

Atlanta United began to regain some control and started to produce chances. A cross by Pity Martinez went across the face of the goal with no teammate able to reach the ball in time. A free kick by Pity Martinez was headed wide by Josef Martinez. A corner kick by Pity Martinez was one-timed over the crossbar by Josef Martinez. 

Philadelphia thought it had a 1-0 lead on a goal by Przybylko in the 31st minute. But Fabian was ruled offside and the goal disallowed. 

Philadelphia kept pressing. 

Fabrice-Jean Picault got past Gonzalez Pirez and into space with only Guzan to beat. Guzan rushed out to make the stop but Picault stepped on his neck in the 42nd minute. Guzan continued after trainers examined him. 

Przybylko hit the outside of the post in the 45th minute after mistakes by Larentowicz and Gonzalez Pirez while under pressure with the ball led to a turnover. 

And then, as has been the case during the win streak, Atlanta United made Philadelphia pay for its ineffectiveness when Josef Martinez scored in the second minute of extra time to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. Martinez first passed to Nagbe, who one-timed a pass back to Martinez, who had spun away from his mark and into space to receive the pass. He dribbled around the onrushing Blake to poke a shot into an empty goal. The sequence started with Nagbe dribbling past two Union defenders near midfield before passing the ball to Pity Martinez, who passed it back to Nagbe to start the scoring play. 

Philadelphia didn’t waste its next good chance. 

Aaronson ran behind Atlanta United’s defense onto a pass from Haris Medunjanin. Guzan could do nothing to stop the shot that tied the game 1-1 in the 61st minute. The sequence started with a tackle by Jack Elliott who dispossesed Remedi. De Boer said Remedi had Hyndman open on the left, but the fatigue may have forced Remedi to take one touch too many.

“No real freshness coming in,” Gressel said. “You kind of drag yourself from game to game. We made it, we made it through that rough stretch. We have a couple of weeks to push on to the last phase with everything to play for.”

Atlanta United’s last best chance came on the play in which Martinez needed to be examined by trainers. On the play,  Elliott passed it to Blake, who wasn't ready. He came out as Martinez came in for the tackle. Martinez won the tackle and tried to reach the ball to shoot into an open goal. The angle was too tight and the ball hit the side netting. Martinez went down immediately grabbing his left leg.

De Boer said Martinez is OK.

Philadelphia took its lead when Przybylko slammed a shot into the upper corner in the 86th minute.  On the play, de Boer said Franco Escobar, who came in for Gressel, and Larentowicz didn’t move together when pressing. They waited too long and the space was left on the left for the Union to exploit when Kai Wagner, who wasn’t pressured by Escobar, hit a long pass into the corner to Santos. Larentowicz was slow to close him down. His pass found an open Przybylko, who rifled his left-footed shot. Guzan said he couldn’t see the shot until it was flying past Robinson and him.

“It’s clear to see that guys were carrying some heavy legs, but again, it’s not an excuse,” Guzan said. “We stand up to it. We own it. They are a good team. This was always going to be a tough game regardless of our schedule leading up to it.”

Santos followed with his goal two minutes later as Atlanta United’s stretched defense came apart with two Union players left mostly open in the penalty box.

“We have to swallow it and go on, take a really nice break and charge the battery again,” de Boer said. “I’m really confident we can show what we showed in the last couple of weeks in the next month.”

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