A goal from Josef Martinez and another strong defensive outing lifted Atlanta United to a 1-0 win over Vancouver at BC Place on Wednesday.
The win, powered by tired legs and an ability to overcome some sloppiness, was Atlanta United’s fifth consecutive and fifth by shutout, setting an MLS record for consecutive victories without allowing a goal. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan’s shutout streak is at 456 minutes. It’s the longest active shutout streak in the league.
The victory pushed Atlanta United (6-3-2) into a tie in points (20) with third-place Montreal in the East.
“I’m very proud of the team because it’s along trip, short period between the two legs,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “We started a little bit sloppy with two, three or four passes with no concentration. After 20 minutes we took control. The second half we were even better concentrated. In the end the best team won.”
De Boer, who turned 49 years old on Wednesday, made a few changes to the group of players he typically uses in his starting 11. First, captain Michael Parkhurst and midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who is having a terrific season, were both left in Atlanta to rest ahead of Sunday’s game at the New York Red Bulls.
Wednesday’s game at Vancouver was the fourth in a stretch of eight games in 28 days for the Five Stripes. The team planned to take a charter flight from Vancouver back to Atlanta.
Other changes to the starting lineup included Florentin Pogba at centerback for his first league start in place of Miles Robinson, who has played every minute of every game (league and Champions League) this season. Additionally, Jeff Larentowicz was back in the starting lineup in place of Nagbe and Justin Meram, acquired in a trade with Columbus last week, started in midfield.
De Boer said the team wanted to rest its legs so it decided to not press, compress the middle of the field and pick its moments to attack. As such, Atlanta United, which led the league in possession, only had the ball for 45.7 percent of the game.
However, Vancouver created just four chances with its advantage in possession and put just two shots on goal.
“They didn’t have the answer to that,” de Boer said. “They had problems to make the game go. It was a good game plan but saved us energy for Sunday.”
After an extremely sloppy opening with neither team able to string passes together or put a shot on goal, Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead on a penalty kick by Josef Martinez. It was his team-leading fifth goal in league play. Pity Martinez was knocked down from behind in the penalty box to earn the kick. Josef Martinez buried the penalty into the right side.
Atlanta United had three chances in the 59th minute to take a 2-0 lead but Vancouver goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau made three solid stops.
The first was on Hector Villalba, who was in one-on-one but fired his shot right into Crepeau’s chest.
The rebound came to Josef Martinez, who passed to Eric Remedi. Crepeau dove and stopped that shot, but couldn’t control the ball.
Pity Martinez came flying in with a header when Vancouver failed to properly clear the ball. Crepeau stopped that shot, too.
“It seems like a lot of times goalkeepers have the games of their lives against Atlanta United,” de Boer said.
Crepeau made another fine save in the 67th minute when reached back to get a hand on a header by Josef Martinez.
Vancouver raced down the field on the counterattack, but Guzan came out of his box to close the angle and got a hand on the ball as Fredy Montero streaked toward the goal.
“Probably the most work I had to do tonight saving the ball,” Guzan said.
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