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Josef Martínez stunners save Atlanta United in lackluster performance at FC Cincinnati

The Five Stripes did not play well Wednesday night, but thanks to Martínez, they won anyway.

Sep 18, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Atlanta United FC forward Josef Martinez (7) reacts against FC Cincinnati in the second half at Nippert Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Sep 18, 2019; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Atlanta United FC forward Josef Martinez (7) reacts against FC Cincinnati in the second half at Nippert Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Josef Martínez: What can you say? Atlanta United struggled for long stretches of its 2-0 victory over FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium Wednesday night. The Five Stripes overcorrected after an impatient performance in a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew last weekend. They were stagnant in attack, and if Cincinnati had better quality in the final third, it could have led by a goal or two at halftime through dangerous counterattacks and set pieces. The hosts, who hold the worst record in Major League Soccer, were playing Atlanta off the field in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Then Josef Martínez won the game. There are moments when the Venezuela international seems to decide he is going to score a goal and there is nothing the opposition can do to stop him. It happened twice in a six-minute stretch Wednesday. Josef Martínez and Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez combined on a blistering counterattack to give Atlanta the lead on 59 minutes. In the 65th, the center forward shedded two defenders in the penalty area before whipping an unstoppable shot past Przemysław Tytoń.

‘You just have to applaud a fantastic goal’

“That was a fantastic goal,” manager Frank de Boer said after the game, per a quote sheet provided by the club. “Good transition to attack and the second goal was more beautiful, I think. I spoke with [FC Cincinnati manager] Ron Jans after the game. He said sometimes you just have to applaud a fantastic goal, and that was a fantastic goal.”

Jans instructed his team to sit deep and hit on the counter in hopes of holding Atlanta to a 0-0 draw or eking out a 1-0 win. Aside from a lack of finishing, Cincinnati did well to execute the plan.

“I am still satisfied about the form because when they park two buses in front of their own goal, it is quite difficult to create chances,” de Boer said. “We had the patience.

“I think the most important thing is that we are playing concentrated and we showed in the last five minutes of the first half that we were creating some small chances. And I said, just be patient. After half an hour, they are going to be tired and we get our chances. Of course it is always nice to have a player like Josef, who can make a difference.”

As is often the case, Josef Martínez did make the difference. He completed his brace with just three shots.

“In the counter attack, especially after the first goal, he has the speed and one-versus-one and the space behind,” Jans said. “Our back four, of course, we want to mark him. I think the defense from [Maikel] van der Weff and [Nick] Haggland did well in defending Martínez, but in counterattack you do not have to say you have to mark him, and in those situations he was too good.”

‘We didn’t play a very good game, but we won’

Atlanta’s No. 7 has scored in 15 consecutive league games, one off Gerd Müller’s record Bundesliga streak in 1969-70 and Teodor Peterek’s run in the Polish top flight in 1937-38. He is six behind Lionel Messi’s world record 21-game stretch in 2012-13. 

Josef Martínez has 31 goals across all competitions this season, and his 26 strikes in MLS play are two behind Carlos Vela in the race for the golden boot. He once again proved he can carry the team on his shoulders and deliver a result.

Atlanta (16-11-3, 51 points) trails New York City FC by six points and the Philadelphia Union by one in the Eastern Conference table. Each team has four games remaining in the regular season. Atlanta plays at New York City Sept. 25. NYC travels to Philadelphia on decision day, Oct. 6. At this point in the season, every point is crucial.

“Maybe we didn’t play a very good game, but we won,” Josef Martínez told Jillian Sakovits on Fox Sports Southeast’s postgame broadcast. “That’s what’s important.”

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