Josef Martinez scored three goals to tie the MLS all-time record for hat tricks, Philadelphia had two players sent off in a moment of craziness involving referee Sorin Stoica, and Atlanta United went on to win 3-1 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The victory, witnessed by 45,140 bathed in the sun streaming through the open roof during the first half, kept Atlanta United atop the Supporters’ Shield standings with 29 points. It also snapped a two-game home losing streak. After hosting Charleston on Wednesday at Kennesaw State in the U.S. Open Cup, the Five Stripes will play at NYCFC on June 9 in battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
Martinez scored two goals on penalty kicks and another in open play for his fifth hat trick. The Venezuelan needed just 34 games to tie the mark set by Stern John, who needed 55 games, and Diego Serna, who needed 124 games.
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“First I’m happy the team got the victory, that was the most important thing,” Martinez said. “I’m happy for the goals and happy that it helped the team. Now it’s time to focus on the next game.”
Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute on Martinez’s 10th goal this season. It came on a penalty kick after he was tripped by Austen Trusty in the box. Before he could take the kick, a group of Union players confronted Stoica, who issued two yellow cards each to Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin, reducing Philadelphia to nine men for the final 69 minutes.
The players appeared to be protesting Stoica’s call of the trip. Martinez appeared to be sliding on both feet and trying to get the ball into position to shoot when Gaddis caught him from behind, putting him onto the turf. It wasn’t the toughest tackle, but there was contact.
Martinez has already had two goals disallowed this season after the use of replays. He laughed and said no when asked if he thought Saturday’s first penalty was going to be disallowed.
Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said he was told that Stoica had forgotten that he had already given Bedoya a yellow card earlier in the game after he had dragged down Darlington Nagbe from behind. Bedoya’s second yellow came when he put his leg into the penalty box to fix his sock while Martinez was lining up to take the penalty. Stoica appeared to think Bedoya was using a delaying tactic.
Medunjanin became so incensed that he ran over and booted the ball off the penalty spot before the kick was taken. He also appeared to spit at Stoica. Neither Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst nor Jeff Larentowicz said they saw the alleged spitting. It may have been part of Medunjanin’s yelling at Stoica and not an intentional act. Larentowicz said Medunjanin was telling Stoica that was Bedoya’s second yellow and asking how could you.
Larentowicz, who started his 352nd MLS game on Saturday, said he’s never seen anything like what happened with Philadelphia, but he did understand the emotions. He didn’t agree with their reactions, though. He was trying to break up the confrontation with Stoica.
“Something about this season, I keep saying games I’ve never seen before,” he said.
Atlanta United had trouble finding its footing after the two players were sent off. Manager Gerardo Martino said teams can sometimes struggle in that situation because the situation of being up by two men is unfamiliar.
Atlanta United eventually began to apply pressure, taking 14 shots, but couldn’t find that important second goal. That was the case on Wednesday when Atlanta United missed several chances in the second half to take a 2-0 lead. The Revs eventually got the tying goal in the 88th minute.
Atlanta United didn’t find that second goal in the first half on Saturday because Parkhurst and Martino said the players didn’t work as a team, moving the ball side to side, and instead tried too many things one-on-one.
“The game should have been over,” Parkhurst said. “We made things a little bit more difficult on ourselves.”
Atlanta United seemed to have learned the lesson from New England, and from the first half.
Martinez gave Atlanta United a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute with a left-footed volley off a pass from Miguel Almiron. It was Martinez’s league-leading 11th goal this season and Almiron’s sixth assist.
Philadelphia cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 in the 52nd minute on a goal by Fabrice-Jean Picault, who reacted first to a looping cross.
The goal put Atlanta United back into the position of potentially dropping two more points if the Union could somehow find a tying goal.
But, a handball against Philadelphia’s Ilsinho in the 83rd minute gave Martinez another chance from the spot. He buried the kick to give Atlanta United the final margin.
“Playing 11 versus 9 tonight for that long of a stretch, it was logical he was going to find some space tonight and find some goals,” Martino said. “It’s good for him that he’s tied the record. Now the next step is to break the record.”