A moment of brilliance from Pity Martinez late in the first half and then a rocket of a shot late in the second half gave Atlanta United a 2-0 win over Nashville on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Playing their first game under interim manager Stephen Glass, who replaced Frank de Boer, and in front of an empty stadium, Atlanta United (3-3-0) snapped its three-game losing streak in MLS as well as its scoreless streak at 434 minutes. Atlanta United will play at Miami on Wednesday.
“I’m delighted with the response from the players,” Glass said. “You never know exactly what’s going to happen until the ball starts rolling. Their work rate was amazing. I’m please they got a reward for all the work they put in.”
It wasn’t the type of all-out aggressive, attacking soccer that Glass hoped to see after taking over the club on July 27. The team had just four shots, three on goal, through 85 minutes and all of them came in the first half. But there were excellent sequences on offense and defense and it was enough to restore a sense of normalcy during most-unusual circumstances forced by COVID-19.
“We talked about before the game that nothing less than three points would be good enough,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “To get that first goal and then be disciplined and not be careless and reckless and play how we want to play and defend a 1-nil lead for most of the second half ... that part was encouraging for me.”
The deciding moment came near the end of the first half when Eric Remedi lifted his head and stroked a beautiful cross-field pass to Martinez, who took it, cut back across an onrushing Walker Zimmerman and toe-poked a left-footed shot between Joe Willis’ legs and into the goal in the 40th minute to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. It was Martinez’s first goal and Remedi’s first assist this season.
Martinez then hammered a shot over Willis’ head in the 87th minute from 18 yards to seal the win. It was his first multi-goal game in MLS.
“Tonight we showed a completely different face (than in Orlando),” Martinez said. “We’re very happy. This is the path. We have to keep learning. We have to keep working to be better. Today we showed character and for us that was very important.”
Glass, who on Thursday said the team had a clean bill of health other than Josef Martinez, wasn’t able to field what would be considered his strongest 11 because Ezequiel Barco was out with a “knock” that happened in practice on Friday that kept him from being included on the bench. Centerback Miles Robinson, who finished in the top five in defender of the year voting last year, wasn’t considered match fit enough to make the 11 but did make the bench. The 11, playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, was Guzan, centerbacks Anton Walkes and Fernando Meza, fullbacks Franco Escobar, and George Bello, defensive midfielders Remedi and Emerson Hyndman, midfielders Pity Martinez, Matheus Rossetto and Brooks Lennon, and striker Adam Jahn.
Glass talked about helping Atlanta United find a way to become the high-scoring side it once was. There was talk of faster ball movement, players consistently moving forward.
Instead, for the first 23 minutes, Atlanta United in segment 3 of the season looked much like Atlanta United in segments 1 and 2 under de Boer: deliberate. It wasn’t unexpected. The team has played just three games in five months, and none in the past month.
But there were signs of good things.
The team’s first shot on goal came in the 24th minute by Bello. It was the result of a mistake by Willis, who recovered to make a save. Lennon followed with another shot on goal a minute later that came from a pass from Bello. The shot was from close range and likely would have been buried if Josef Martinez were healthy and playing. Instead, it was a tame effort that Willis easily saved.
But the Atlanta United attack changed in an instant on Martinez’s goal, his first this season. Martinez’s first touch to bring down the ball was feathery. He then ran away from defender before putting Zimmerman in his hip pocket.
“His first goal was very persistent,” Glass said. “He’s trying to get into positions to score.”
Glass was forced to bring on Robinson for Meza, who picked up an undisclosed injury late in the first half.
Erick Torres, signed as an injury replacement for Josef Martinez, made his debut in the 79th minute when he came on for Jahn.
As it did so well in 2017 and ’18, Atlanta United’s defense did enough until the team could break on a counter, which it did on Martinez’s second goal. Mo Adams and Torres were given assists on the goal.
“Second (goal) was a little bit of what we are working on in training,” Martinez said. “Our movements were precise and we capitalized.”
Torres had a chance to score in injury time, but his shot was deflected over the goal.
Glass didn’t want to take any credit for the win, but he did reveal a little bit of what may have motivated the team.
“I feel like I’m part of a bigger team here,” he said. “Clean sheet. Couple of goals. Maybe people will talk about how good Atlanta United is rather than they can’t score.”
Atlanta United upcoming games
Wednesday at Miami, 8 p.m. (Fox Sports South)
Aug. 29 vs. Orlando, 3:30 p.m. (Univision)
Sept. 2 vs. Miami, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Sept. 5 at Orlando, 8 p.m. (Fox)
Sept. 12 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South)
Southern Fried Soccer Podcasts
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