ATLANTA — A season ago, despite all of its talent, Atlanta United F.C. could not beat D.C. United, losing to the original Black-and-Red of Major League Soccer in all three meetings.
So far this season, the Five Stripes are undefeated against their neighbors to the north, in large part due to the goal-scoring abilities of Josef Martinez.
After scoring just once in Atlanta’s previous win over D.C. United — a 3-1 result on March 11 — the Venezuelan goal-scoring machine tallied three scores in front of an announced crowd of 45,087 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, leading the top-of-the-table Five Stripes to a 3-1 victory.
With the trio of goals, Martinez broke the MLS record for career hat tricks. He now has six, which is one more than Stern John and Diego Serna. Martinez, 25, accomplished the feat in 42 MLS matches.
“(Martinez is) always in the right place at the right time,” said Atlanta defender Chris McCann. “He’s a handful to mark. You try marking him in training and his movements are really good, he’s sharp… He just wants to score more and more.”
The final goal of the day for Martinez came in the 73rd minute. After a receiving a pass from Miguel Almiron that left D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum on the ground, Martinez was one-on-one with goalkeeper David Ousted. Martinez danced to his right, then cut to his left, leaving Ousted on the ground in a split. Unmarked, Martinez tapped the ball into the net.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 21, 2018
So far, Martinez has 10 more goals this season than the league’s second-leading scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls. Martinez is also the 21st player in MLS history to score at least 20 goals in a single season. Eight of his 22 goals this season have been headers.
“I think that when one has the possibility to have someone in the kind of form that Josef is in right now, all you can really do is sit back and watch and try to enjoy it,” Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said through a translator. “I’m pleased with the way he’s scoring the goals, that it’s coming as a function of the team and that leaves me calm.”
Before Martinez’s trio of scores, D.C. United took an early lead, striking the net in the eighth minute, by way of a counter attack finished off by Zoltan Stieber.
After D.C. United won the ball in midfield, Wayne Rooney — who was making his first career MLS start — carried the ball forward before laying it off to Paul Arriola, who then fed Steiber. The 29-year-old Hungarian forward rifled a low shot past a diving Brad Guzan and into Atlanta’s goal. It was the fourth goal of the season for one of the Black-and-Red’s top play-makers.
“I thought in the first half that we went toe-to-toe with them. We can still do a better job of valuing possession,” said D.C. United manager Ben Olsen. “And again, I think on the defensive end, we just didn’t make enough plays. You get a goal and you better do a better job of locking up the 18-yard box. Today, I just think we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Atlanta evened things back up in the 30th minute. Almiron fed Hector “Tito” Villalba on the right wing, who crossed a ball in towards the goal.
With the ball afloat, the 5-foot-7 Martinez leapt toward 6-foot-4 Ousted. While colliding with him, Martinez won the ball and headed it into the net. D.C. United — or at least, whoever runs the team’s Twitter account — thought that a foul should’ve been called, but the play was not reviewed by referees.
“I thought the referee was a bit poor tonight. Pretty inconsistent in some of the stuff, particularly on the one that led to the third goal,” Olsen said. “(Luciano Acosta) got fouled. He could’ve brought it back, but he didn’t and they went down and scored.”
On that play where Martinez scored, Atlanta had four players in the penalty box, which is what manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino asked for more of last week.
Martinez scored the go-ahead goal in the 52nd minute, thanks to a cross from 18-year-old Andrew Carleton, who was making his first start in an MLS regular season game. Atlanta’s first homegrown player had seen action in four other league games this season.
Carleton dribbled around a defender and into open space before lofting the ball towards the far post from just outside the box. The ball grazed a defender’s noggin before Martinez met the ball with his own head and knocked it into the net. Carleton was not credited with an assist.
“I was one-on-on and I kind of take pride in being good at those battles, and I just kind of did some move and (the ball) was on my left foot — and I was a little nervous it was on my left foot — and I just whipped it in,” Carleton said. “And Josef finished it as he always does.
“The records that he’s breaking is unbelievable. Just to be apart of it and help him get there is, you know, I take a lot of pride in that.”
- Newly signed midfielder Eric Remedi made his Atlanta United debut in the 77th minute, coming on for Villalba. “I’m really happy with the debut,” Remedi said. “I just want to keep getting more minutes and adapting with the team.”
- Ezequiel Barco was not in the 18-man gameday roster for Atlanta. Martino said after the game that Barco was benched for “committing an act of indiscipline.” He will also miss Atlanta’s game next weekend vs. the Montreal Impact.
- Brandon Vazquez subbed on for Carleton in the 65th minute. It marked his fourth appearance with Atlanta United this season.
- Rooney received a yellow card in the 50th minute for shoving Franco Escobar. The English forward was subbed off in 68th minute for Darren Mattocks.
- Jeff Larentowicz appeared in his 379th career game, passing Steve Ralston for fourth all-time in MLS history by a field player.
- Almiron recorded his 10th assist, tied for second-most in MLS.
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) July 21, 2018