Pity Martinez’s first goal this season and Brad Guzan’s goalkeeping were enough to lift Atlanta United to a 1-0 victory over Orlando Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United has won four consecutive games, all by shutouts, and five of six as Guzan’s shutout streak reached 366 minutes in front an announced attendance of 68,152. Atlanta United also improved to 5-0-2 against Orlando.
The result was a bit sloppy with Atlanta United making numerous mistakes, but the victory and three points pushed the Five Stripes (5-3-2) from eighth to fifth in the Eastern Conference. The team has three consecutive road games upcoming at Vancouver on Wednesday, at New York Red Bulls on May 19 and at Real Salt Lake on May 24. Atlanta United trails first-place Philadelphia by six points but has played two less games.
“We were the much better team,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer, “But they could have easily scored two goals. But I think the best team won.”
De Boer made just one change from the starting 11 that defeated Toronto, 2-0, on Wednesday. Perhaps anticipating that Nani would start on the right wing for Orlando, de Boer put the right-footed Michael Parkhurst in at left fullback for the second time in three games. However, Nani didn’t make the trip because of an injury.
After a slow first 10 minutes in which Orlando squandered a mistake by Eric Remedi in the first minute, Atlanta United scored first with Martinez slamming a left-footed shot from 17 yards into the upper right corner. Hector Villalba earned the assist, his third this season, after a strong run down the left. After he drew a defender toward him, he laid off the ball into the space to his right to Martinez for the one-timed attempt.
“I’m happy because the team won,” Martinez said. “The goal was necessary for me for my confidence and that the team showed another mark of character that we need at the moment and we have to continue on this path.”
Atlanta United came close to doubling its lead in the 26th minute when Josef Martinez rounded goalkeeper Brian Rowe. Martinez got off a shot from a tough angle, only for it to be stopped by a sliding Kamal Miller.
Guzan kept Atlanta United’s 1-0 lead with a diving stop of Dom Dwyer in the 33rd minute. Ruan got behind Parkhurst and put a cross to Dwyer at the far post three yards from goal. His sliding shot was palmed away by Guzan as he dove back to his right to extend his shutout streak to 309 minutes.
Guzan made another strong save in the 45th minute when he again dove to his right to stop a looping shot. He finished with four saves.
“There were some areas we could have been sharper in, but overall we were comfortable except for the first 30 seconds when we gave them a golden chance,” Guzan said. “But we didn’t allow too many of them.”
Atlanta United thought it had increased its lead to 2-0 on a goal by Julian Gressel in the 51st minute from another assist by Villalba. But Villalba was ruled offside after a video review by referee Rubiel Vazquez.
History was made in the 76th minute when Jeff Larentowicz came on for Pity Martinez. It was Larentowicz’s 400th appearance in a game during the MLS regular season. Only two players, Kyle Beckerman and Chad Marshall, have more in the league.
“It was a goal that I set, so it feels good to achieve a league,” Larentowicz said. “Really it’s just a moment in a season that we hope goes really well for a long time. I’m happy for the moment but happy for the win. The team’s playing exceptionally well right now.”
Guzan’s shutout streak is the second longest in MLS this season behind Zack Steffen’s 499 minutes with Columbus from March 2-April 13.
The result wasn’t nearly as confidently secured as the previous wins. Atlanta United made numerous mistakes that Orlando failed to capitalize on.
De Boer said the team was overconfident and sloppy and needed to get those mistakes out of its system. He liked the team’s energy though, even if Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said the team was tired by the 70th minute because it was playing its third game in eight days.
“We have to avoid those kinds of mistakes,” de Boer said. “They can change the game. We were good in the game, but sometimes we were overconfident. I’m sure we will get punished if we do it again.”
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