Just when it looked like Atlanta United and Josef Martinez would wilt in the hot, humid conditions of Orlando, Tata Martino’s men produced a moment of magic to find the winning goal. Of course, it was Josef Martinez on the end of it.
And with that goal, Josef Martinez travels home as the highest-scoring player in a single season in MLS history. And, more importantly, with three points.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez opened the scoring in the twenty-first minute, somehow managing the bungle the ball across the line after Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik spilled a free kick from Ezequiel Barco in front of goal. It was an apt reward for a player who just became a father only days ago.
Following the goal, things slowed down quite a bit, and Orland was able to capitalize through—of all people—right back Scott Sutter. The defneder found himself on the end of a bouncing ball near the corner of the box and unleashed a vicious strike past Brad Guzan.
The goal gave Orlando a foothold in the game, and the home side defended mightily deep into the game. Utilizing a very low block Atlanta’s Venezuelan striker didn’t have much room to operate, until he did.
It was a goal that defies description, and certainly one worthy of the sacred MLS record. The goal was also good enough to tie Diego Valeri’s record of nine consecutive games with a goal, which was set just last season.
Atlanta United players will tell you over and over that the games against Orlando, while intense with big atmospheres, aren’t quite rivalries. But at the same time, you get quotes like this.
Asked Josef Martinez why Atlanta United continues to remain unbeaten against Orlando City, his response: “I don’t know, to be honest. Everytime we play them, they play like it’s the game of their lives, and we continue to father them.” #ORLvATL— Mike Gramajo (@byMikeGramajo) August 25, 2018
As for Atlanta United manager Tata Martino, he was a little more clear-eyed about the situation going forward for Atlanta after the match.
“With Josef, we knew he was going to break the record,” Martino told reporters after the match. “It was just a matter of if he could do it sooner or later. The good thing is he did it sooner. Now this will calm him down. On top of that, he did it with a very nice goal.”
As for the man himself, Martinez admitted after the match that the record was something that was definitely on his mind, and the team knew it. He told reporters that some of his teammates were even joking with him about it at halftime. “Now I can make jokes back to them.”
The three points were extremely important for an Atlanta team that must play five of its remaining eight matches on the road to close out the MLS regular season and Supporters’ Shield chase. The win meant Atlanta opened up its lead atop Supporters’ Shield standings to six points over the New York Red Bulls.
“Winning the Supporters’ Shield is our primary focus, regardless of what happens with Josef [Martinez],” said Martino. “We know that it’s a close battle with Red Bulls, New York City and Dallas in the other conference. It’s going to be important that the team doesn’t make mistakes in these final weeks. That’s always been our main focus.”
As for Martinez? He’s just going to keep on keeping on.
“The focus will always be the same,” said Martinez. “Every game I will try to score and win. No matter if there is another record to break or not, the vision will never change.”
Quotes sourced from team-provided quote sheet