There are two main takeaways we can gather from Atlanta United’s 4-0 rout of Chicago Fire at Bobby Dodd Stadium. First, this team’s going to be awful fun to watch as the season progresses. Second, Josef Martinez is a very, very good player.
Probably unsurprisingly, the first Atlanta United goal came early in the match. However, this would officially be ruled an own goal - Julian Gressel’s attempt was deflected off the foot of Brandon Vincent to make it a 1-0 affair in the 4th minute.
Things got worse for Chicago moments later after Johan Kappelhof was ruled to have taken Josef Martinez down on a clear scoring opportunity. Jose Carlos Rivero went straight to his back pocket and the Fire would be forced to play down a man the rest of the way. However, Atlanta couldn’t find that second goal in the first half - their best chance coming off a Greg Garza cross that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez just missed putting in the net in the 35th minute.
You had a sense that another goal was coming, and it finally came in the 60th minute thanks to - guess what - more attacking play. With the Fire tracking back on defense, Miguel Almiron threaded a absolutely gorgeous through ball between four Chicago players to Martinez, who would find himself face to face with a gaping wide net and an easy finish. It was phenomenal field vision by Almiron to see his man ahead and even better work by Martinez to not only keep himself onside long enough to accept the pass, but to fake Jorge Bava out and give himself an opportunity that was hard to miss.
While the second goal seemed to take the winds out of the shorthanded Fire’s sails, Atlanta’s third goal ensured that there would be no way back for the visitors. Tito Villalba upped the margin by one more in the 67th as his seeing-eye strike found its way past the defenders and behind Jorge Bava.
TITO TITO TITO TITO!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/Z3ubnYvU2a— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) March 18, 2017
And, for good measure, Martinez would add another one late from an impossible angle to earn himself a brace and make it 4-0. Martinez now has five goals on the season and had just one less goal than Portland Timbers, MLS’s second-top scoring team behind Atlanta, at the completion of play.
“We’re really happy to get the win,” Martinez said. “It’s a win that we wanted and a win that we needed, especially at home.
“I’m just thankful to my team, the coaching staff and the fans for being behind me. I came here to give everything I have for the (Atlanta) shirt, and I’m happy for the support from the team.”
“In a game like today, it’s difficult to talk about just one person, but it’s evident to us that Josef is a great goal scorer,” said Atlanta coach Tata Martino.
Not to be lost in the mix: the clean sheet for Alec Kann. The Decatur native was sharp throughout, preserving his shutout with several strong saves down the stretch.
“It’s really tough to describe (playing close to home). It’s really special,” said Kann. “It’s cool seeing my friends and family texting me before and after the games, following every game.”
It’s an important win going into an extended time off for Atlanta and a four-game stretch that sees United play its next four away from Bobby Dodd. After nearly two weeks off the pitch, the team heads to defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC on March 31 before games at 2016 East champ Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake.
“In training we just have to keep gaining trust in our style of play and keep working on that during the break,” Martino said.
The coach had a humorous answer when asked if the break came at the wrong time.
“After the game in Seattle, we’ll know,” he joked.
There were a couple of remarkable stats that came out of the match for Atlanta. They were dominant in possession (82.9% to Chicago’s 17.1%) and completed 92.% of their passes. Martino had his fingerprints all over United’s playing style once again as they made 935 passes for the match; Chicago only made 192. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez alone had 137.