The post-thundershowers stickiness was no match for the determined Atlanta United and neither were the Columbus Crew. Josef Martinez returned to the pitch for the five stripes and sent a rocket shot to the back of the net in the 88th minute to put the finishing touches on a 3-1 win.
Atlanta didn’t play like a team coming off only essentially 2 days rest. Wednesday night’s scheduled 7:00 game didn’t get underway until 10:00 pm due to inclement weather.
“I’m tired but I also try to play every game and I watch a lot of European football and those guys play on Saturday, then Wednesday, and then Sunday,” explained Miguel Almiron. “I think it’s important for all of our teammates to take care of our bodies and try to recover as we have this heavy stretch of games coming up.
Bobby Dodd Stadium brings out the fiery offense of the red and black. Saturday night became the fourth time United has scored three or more goals in six home games. Each of them victories.
The margin could have been wider. Early in the first half, Julian Gressel stared down Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen from no more than 10 feet from the right post after a failed tackle by defender Jukka Raitala. Instead of taking the shot, Gressel attempted to pass to Hector Villalba. His pass, like the opportunity, went for naught.
Two more scoring opportunities ended the same way until finally, Villalba delivered in the 16th minute.
“Our mistakes today weren’t so bad on ourselves it was because Columbus is a good team and they forced us into them,” said United manager Tata. “I thought that after Tito (Hector) Villalba’s goal we relaxed a little bit and we settled into the game and allowed us to do what we wanted to do.”
Columbus’ defense tightened after the goal and evened the score. Harrison Afful’s through ball to Ola Kamara on the run was contested by Michael Parkhurst but an opportunistic Federico Higuaín cleaned up the ricochet with an awkward looking right foot to the back of the net.
It was all United in the second half. Atlanta kept the Crew at bay for the most part. Two of the Crew’s shots were off target and a third was snuffed out by Alec Kann.
United’s offense, on the other hand, fired six shots, four of them good. Miguel Almiron raced past two defenders before sending a well-placed dribbler inside the right post. “I was a little fortunate on that play,” said Almiron. “It’s not like I tried to perfectly place it in that spot. I was a little lucky and just happy for it to go in and help my teammates.”
“We didn’t make them work enough defensively,” explained Columbus Crew manager Gregg Berhalter. “We made it too easy for them. We gave them the ball too easily. We knew they were going to be dangerous on the counter-attack and that was going to be a key defensive element.”
In the 63rd minute, the crowd of 44,922 went crazy again. Their boisterous cheering was not due to a goal being scored but a substitution. It was the return of Josef Martinez who had not played a game at home since due to injury.
Martinez, seemingly fueled by the crowd, was everywhere the ball was on the pitch. Steffen made a diving grab thwarting Martinez on a breakaway But Martinez would not be denied. Shadowed by Jonathan Mensah, the speedy midfielder turned and sent a missile at the head of Steffen. The goalkeeper failed attempt at stopping the ball was more self-preservation than anything. “I’m happy with scoring the goal today, said Martinez. “After the goal that I scored I was a little emotional especially because before I came on I heard all the fans applauding and chanting my name.”
“It was a welcome return because we’re a better team when we have our goal scorer,” said Tata of Martinez.
all photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports