Josef Martinez set the MLS single-season goal-scoring record with his 28th goal and Atlanta United defeated Orlando City 2-1 on Friday in steamy Florida.
After cutting a frustrated figure most of the night, Martinez made history in the 74th minute with a 12-yard chip of Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik. The winning goal was assisted by Julian Gressel. Martinez celebrated by taking off his shirt and running to the corner where Atlanta United’s supporters were. His teammates mobbed him. Martinez has eight games to extend the record, starting at D.C. United on Sept. 2.
“I’m really happy, really happy with the place where I got the record, happy with the way the game was played,” Martinez said. “I’m happier than ever and happy to get the three points.”
Atlanta United increased its league-leading points total to 54, five more than the New York Red Bulls in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield. Atlanta United improved to a league-best 8-2-2 on the road this season.
Gerardo Martino made several changes to the starting lineup on Friday. First, Gressel moved from right midfield to right fullback in place of the injured Franco Escobar. Second, Hector Villalba moved from the left to the right. Lastly, Ezequiel Barco moved back into the starting lineup as the left midfielder. It was his first start since his three-game hiatus.
But the game was assumed to come down to Atlanta United’s league-leading offense (53 goals scored) against Orlando’s league worst defense (57 goals allowed).
Atlanta United struck first, thanks to a mistake by Bendik. After Chris McCann won a free kick in the 21st minute about 40 yards from goal, Ezequiel Barco whipped in a free kick. The cross hit the ground in front of Bendik, bounced off his chin and then off Gonzalez Pirez and into the goal. It was Gonzalez Pirez’s second goal for Atlanta United, and first this season. It was also a nice gift for the new father, whose wife had their first baby earlier this week.
Gonzalez Pirez said he didn’t know how to celebrate, so he stuck his thumb in his mouth as if it were a pacifier.
“That was for her,” he said.
Atlanta United began to give away possession in the games final 20 minutes and Orlando City made them pay.
The Lions tied the game in the 39th minute on a rocket from Scott Sutter. Chris Mueller found Will Johnson, who put a backheel into the path of the onrushing Sutter to drill past Brad Guzan. Orlando City had the ball after a poor pass from Julian Gressel on the other side of the field was intercepted. Atlanta United also failed to track Sutter. Larentowicz tried to slide over, but couldn’t get there in time.
Atlanta United almost took a 2-1 lead a minute later, but Martinez shot from close range went wide after he was set up by Villalba.
After halftime, Atlanta United found its footing and began working to keep possession and maintain patience. They continued to pressure Orlando and the work almost paid off in the 60th minute when Bendik was forced to make two excellent back-to-back saves, the second from his knees, and Dom Dwyer cleared a shot off the line with his head.
Martinez’s goal was the ninth consecutive game in which he has scored, tying the mark set by Portland’s Diego Valeri.
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