There was loads to like for Atlanta United thanks to the 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers at the weekend at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The principle advantage as far as Frank De Boer’s side is concerned is that the triumph helped them leapfrog Philadelphia Union to take top spot in the Major League Soccer (MLS) Eastern Conference. Then, to add to the party for United and their fans, marksman Josef Martinez scored for the 11th MLS game on the spin to notch up a league record and at the same time out-do previous holder Diego Valeri.
Venezuelan striker Martinez, who is aged 26, bagged his 16th goal the campaign and with his goal tally so impressive, he has once again started turning heads of European clubs — with a clutch of coaches said to be keeping tabs on the livewire frontman. The visitors managed to take the lead after around a quarter of an hour when Leandro Gonzalez Pirez shot home in a game that United always looked more likely to win than the home side. Lightning-quick ace Martinez got on the scoresheet for United a minute in to the second half when he cashed in on inventive approach play from Julian Gressell to rifle into the net beyond despairing Portland keeper Steve Clarke.
And although United controlled large passages of the play, the home side also had their chances. When they did get beyond the back line, the home side were met with the imposing figure of former Aston Villa keeper Brad Guzan. The USA custodian, who has earned 60 caps for his country on international duty, is 34 now but proved he has agility and focus to make a difference. He pulled off a string of super saves to keep a clean sheet.
And so it was that the three points secured, United took their place at the summit and, of course, it helped their cause that previous league leaders Philadelphia Union lost 2-0 against a red-hot Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium. Hungarian attacker Nemanja Nikolic opened the scoring when he tapped home following an inviting cross from Przemyslaw Frankowski. And he nabbed a second just as the half-time break approached. He kept his cool to tuck away a spot-kick after CJ Sapong was upended in the box.
After the game a philosophical Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin accepted his team just weren’t at the races and called for a rapid response from his players to bury the disappointment of the defeat. And he said:
“It felt like a night where we probably could have played around 180 minutes and it just wasn’t going to go in for us. We have to bounce back against D.C. United quickly next weekend, because you guys all see how tight the Eastern Conference is.”