A crazy match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium ended with a draw and a little bit of history. Josef Martinez registered a rare hat trick in back to back games, including an equalizer with just over 20 minutes to play, as Atlanta United fought to a wild 3-3 draw on Saturday night. Atlanta are now tied with Columbus Crew SC with 43 points, but sit in 5th place in the Eastern Conference pending this weekend’s results by virtue of Crew SC having one more win.
It was a lively first few minutes with a little bit of back-and-forth action by both teams over the first part of the match. But it was Orlando City scoring first as Donny Toia dealt in a nice cross to Dom Dwyer, who was there for the finish to make it 1-0 for the Lions. Atlanta came close to the equalizer a couple of times, notably on a great run by Miguel Almiron that just found the wrong end of the near post in the 16th minute as United couldn’t find that equalizing goal. Almiron had another try at it in the 30th minute, but his chance trickled past Bendik and on the outside of the left post as a snakebitten run of form continued for him.
Atlanta finally found the goal they were looking for in the 36th minute on a beautiful pass along the goal line by Julian Gressel to Martinez, who had an absolute sitter in front to level it at 1-1. That didn’t last long as Atlanta’s propensity to concede shortly after scoring came back to haunt them. In the 39th, Dwyer’s headed attempt snuck past a diving Brad Guzan and in to make it 2-1 for the visitors.
However, It took about 10 minutes into the 2nd for Atlanta to level it once more. Chris McCann found himself with the ball on the left of the box, and the man from Ireland fired a perfect cross to Martinez that was headed in past Bendik to put Atlanta back on terms with the visitors. But Orlando jumped in front again, as poor defending by Anton Walkes allowed Cyle Larin space to the left to head it past Guzan to make it a 3-2 affair in the 58th.
In the 69th minute, though, Martinez struck again with what proved to be the match’s final goal. Tito Villalba found himself with the ball on the right of the box and laced a perfect cross to Martinez, who finished the job to give himself a hat trick in back-to-back matches - becoming the third player in league history to accomplish the feat.
Orlando came dangerously close to jumping back ahead in the 77th and 79th minutes, but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal as each side looked to deal the final punch. But after a wild flurry of chances by Atlanta in the final minutes, the game would remain level at Jair Marrufo’s final whistle.
Atlanta were without two of its top defenders as Greg Garza (hamstring) and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (yellow card accumulation) were forced to miss Saturday’s match. That meant that United started a backline of Chris McCann, Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst and Anton Walkes, with Larentowicz moving to the back from his usual midfield position and Julian Gressel starting in his place.
At the end of the day, Tata Martino clearly would have liked to have Garza and Gonzalez Pirez available for this one.
“I think the three goals that scored today were my responsibility. We played a back line that had never played before,” he said afterwards. “It’s a line that’s never played together. Aside from any individual mistakes, the responsibility is all mine.”
Martino felt that his side should have taken all three points in this contest. However, they do win the season series 1-0-2 and end the year having not lost to their Southeast rivals.
“We deserved to win the game today. Playing against a team three times in our league, we had two results in our favor, but I’m happy with how responded today. I think for the way the game went, it’s clear that we should have won the game.”
Atlanta are right back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night as they take on the LA Galaxy at 7pm. LA entered today winless in 11 of its last 12 and play host to the league’s top team, Toronto FC, Saturday evening.