Josef Martinez can’t stop scoring.
It doesn’t matter the opponent (in this case Juventus).
It doesn’t matter the stakes (in this case the All-Star Game).
The Atlanta United striker, who leads MLS with 24 goals and is on pace to set the league’s scoring record, scored in the 27th minute to give the record crowd of 72,317 a treat on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The final result: MLS All-Stars 1, Juventus 1, with the Italians winning 5-3 in penalty kicks. Bradley Wright-Phillips’ miss off the post on the fourth penalty kick for the All-Stars opened the door. Martinez was named the game’s MVP.
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“I enjoyed the minutes that I played on the field,” he said. “I also had to focus on my club and this game coming up ahead. We demonstrated we can play well, and my family was here to watch.”
The verdict? Who cares about the game’s result. With rain engulfing the city outside of the stadium, and smoke from pre-game fireworks hovering inside, the game had an eerie feel. But it seemed that most who attended and played had fun in setting an MLS record for All-Star single-game attendance.
“I think the team did a good job,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “I think for large parts of the game we were able to control Juventus, and we were also able to control possession for large stretches of the game. I think especially in the first half the team was able to get out on some really good counterattacks and take advantage of that. Taking into account that we only had two days together I think everyone did an excellent job in the first half and the second half.”
Martino started three of his players: goalkeeper Brad Guzan, attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron and Martinez.
Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri fielded a team strong up the middle with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, midfielders Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Emre Can and striker Federico Bernardeschi.
Almiron and Martinez combined well in the first 10 minutes.
Martinez didn’t approach the game like a friendly. He knocked down a Juventus defender while chasing one pass. He knocked down another a few minutes later.
Guzan made two saves, both fairly easy, in the first 10 minutes.
Juventus struck first. Mathues Pereira received the ball on the left wing. No MLS player came out to pressure him. He found Andrea Favilli on a run down the middle and ahead of defender Laurent Ciman. Pereira’s pass was perfect and Favilli nodded it into the opposite lower corner to give Juventus a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute.
Martinez tied the game in the 27th minute off one of the weirder goals he has scored. After the ball bounced around the mouth of the goal, with Szczesny diving for stops first to his left and then to his right, Martinez pounced on the ball to head it in, leaping over one Juventus defender, while avoiding another and the post.
“It’s great that he just stays on a roll,” Parkhurst said. “He knew he was only going to play about 30 minutes tonight, so he was going hard. It was a great goal again. He started the play by getting in the box and knocking it across. He stuck with the play and another fearless goal. He sticks his head right in there and almost gets crushed in the face again. But he doesn’t care that he already has a broken nose. The goal is more important for him. We are happy that he got another one.”
Martinez was done a few minutes later. He was part of a four-man group who was subbed off, with teammate Ezequiel Barco part of the quartet who came on.
The All-Stars came close to taking a 2-1 lead after a 60-yard run by Almiron down the middle set up Sebastian Giovinco on the right to pass to Barco on the left, but his low, hard shot was palmed away Szczesny.
Almiron thought he had had timed a run perfectly to set up a one-on-one in the 42nd minute, but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside. Replays showed that Almiron may have been onside.
Barco, who hasn’t played in the previous two Atlanta United games because he committed an unspecified act of indiscipline, according to Martino, didn’t look rusty. He returned to the field in the second half and created two dangerous opportunities that the All-Stars failed to capitalize on.
Barco came of in the 63rd minute and the final unused Atlanta United player, Michael Parkhurst, came on as part of another mass substitution by Martino.
Throughout, the crowd gave those new to the team and/or the league a taste of what attending Atlanta United games can be like. The supporters did the “ATL” chant in the first half and again in the second half. They turned on their cell phone flashlights en masse in the second half. They roared when Martinez scored. They celebrated when Parkhurst came on. They proved why the city and the team are now a soccer town and one of the league’s jewels with soccer personalities and journalists gushing throughout the week how the city, owner Arthur Blank and the front office have set a new bar for the league’s other franchises and vested partners.
The crowd got extra time to cheer because the game went to penalty kicks.
“I thought the fans were fantastic,” Guzan said. “We knew they would be. They always are. To be able to showcase the city of Atlanta and showcase our club and our fan base to the rest of the world, it was a great night.”
A-T-L and MLS attendance
MLS attendance records set by Atlanta United since it began play in 2017:
72,243 vs. Seattle on July 15, 2018
72,035 vs. D.C. United on March 11, 2018
71,932 vs. Orlando City on June 30, 2018
71,874 vs. Toronto on Oct. 22, 2017
70,425 vs. Orlando City on Sept. 16, 2017
67,221 vs. Columbus on Oct. 26, 2017
72,317 vs. Juventus on Aug. 1, 2018