Atlanta United had a rather emotional week. It all started with an irksome loss to Philadelphia Union on Saturday, which had people trying to figure out how the team went from scoring ten goals in the three games prior to looking rather confused and lethargic in Pennsylvania. But the team made it very clear from the moment the game ended that they understood the issues and were already making a beeline to fix them. Wednesday’s game against Miami brought the enthusiasm back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and though the score line wasn’t high, the Five Stripes walked away with a necessary win.
Oh, and some guy did a thing with a ball and set some kind of record during that Miami game. If you somehow haven’t heard, his name is Josef Martinez and he’s going to have a statue built outside of the Benz at some point because he’s given his entire heart and soul to the city of Atlanta. History was made Wednesday night, and as Gonzalo Pineda said, the whole set of circumstances just felt like “destiny.” We’ll get to that soon, but for now here are the four things you need to know about Atlanta United this week.
- Atlanta Takes a Tough Loss to Philadelphia Union
When I was younger, I was always told to eat the food I didn’t like first and save the best for last. I’m taking that route with this article, and the match against Philadelphia Union was like that weird cardboard pizza they served in school. No matter how you dressed it up, it was still terrible. Atlanta came out of the gate looking lost, flat-footed, and almost uninterested. The touches were sloppy and there was hardly any interplay, and the team’s morale from the opening whistle just never got any better. That isn’t to say the cardboard pizza team looked good; they weren’t rewarded because they were attacking particularly well. Gonzalo Pineda made a couple of subs in the second half in a clear attempt to break the stalemate and it unfortunately simply backfired.
Jake Mulraney and Jackson Conway came in to provide some offensive work; specifically, Mulraney came on for Bello in a like-for-like, and Conway came on to set up as a true striker in a match where Atlanta needed someone to just crash the box and disrupt the backline. Shortly after they came on, they were the two who instead got attacked and subsequently gave up the only goal of the match. It may be an unpopular opinion, but I feel like Pineda made the right choice tactically there. It’s just that the defensive hole it made coupled with the aforementioned poor play gave up more than it brought to the table. Gonzo was going for a win by trying to throw Philly off their game, and I can absolutely appreciate that. It’s better than sitting back and hoping someone besides your goalkeeper figures out how to kick a ball. Speaking of goalkeepers, Brad Guzan in this match was definitely more like those awesome taquitos they used to serve at school. He came to play, and he kept the score much closer than it could have been.
2. Atlanta United 2’s Playoff Chances All But Disappear
The 2’s have had an emotional week, also. On Saturday they fought a valiant battle against RGV Toros that saw them take the lead, concede a goal, and then take the lead again right before the half. Then they conceded a second goal just after the half before giving up the game winner in the 65th minute. That being said, check this out by Darwin Matheus:
6️⃣th goal of the season for Darwin Matheus! pic.twitter.com/rH8Ril5rdg— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) September 26, 2021
That was an absolute beauty of a goal, and I can’t help but wonder if Gonzalo Pineda has been looking at a way to one day incorporate Darwin into the first team. He still has a ways to go, but he’s showing a ton of promise.
As for the midweek match, though, it was the 2’s last home game of the season. They drew a stout Louisville FC side 1-1, with Josh Bauer providing the lone Atlanta goal. The team now embarks on a rather extended road trip, but unfortunately their playoff chances are a whisper, at best.
3. Atlanta United Defeat Inter Miami 1-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
The loss in Philly meant this match against Miami was even more important. Miami was coming off two matches where they were absolutely wrecked, so it only made sense that they would show up to the castle that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium, put everyone in front of goal, and hope for a draw. They almost got their way, because every version of Atlanta’s attack was stifled by the amount of bodies Miami put in their box, but Atlanta United grew into the game and kept the pressure on. The first few minutes of the match saw some iffy moments either way, including one where Miles Robinson showed once again
how Fifa ‘22 screwed him how important he is to this back line by stepping in and snuffing out Miami’s best chance of the game. He was also crucial in shutting down Gonzalo Higuain, which actually isn’t saying much because Higuain looked particularly terrible in this match.
Speaking of the back line, Alan Franco also decided at one point he wanted to go for an evening jog and took his ball with him from in front of Atlanta’s goal all the way to Miami’s. For a few seconds it looked like he was about to give himself at least another assist, if not his own sensational goal.
Lmao Alan Franco just ran through all of the midfield— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 29, 2021
The match continued with Barco getting fouled almost nonstop, but he was doing everything he could to push through Miami’s stubborn ten men in the box. LGP fittingly found the first yellow card of the match, and Miami ended up with three more before it was all over. That being said, the officiating in this match left much to be desired. On one particular run from Bello to Josef, one of Miami’s players just...fell over, and Bello ended up with a card of his own. The stadium erupted into the “Ref you suck” chant for quite some time.
Marcelino “Mando” Moreno played a good game for the 45 minutes he was in, but Gonzalo Pineda admitted afterward that he had just put Mando in a bad position for the type of game being played. Atlanta’s first great chance of the match came when Luiz Araujo took another left-footed monster shot directly at Miami’s keeper after he was played in by Barco, and the keeper couldn’t hold on to the ball. Josef was able to pounce on the rebound and just barely put a tad too much on the ball trying to lob it over into goal. The second half saw Atlanta creating more opportunities, including from shots by Josef, Barco, Mulraney, and even Campbell. It was clear that Atlanta was knocking on the door, and the momentum was clearly swinging in Atlanta’s favor. It just seemed like the team might be trying to force the ball a little harder towards Josef to give him this...
4. Josef Martinez Reaches 100 Goals for Atlanta United in Record Time
Let me first tell you how it almost happened. Josef and Araujo broke loose and drove down the pitch. Araujo received the ball from Josef and took a few touches driving at goal, and Josef stopped his run to the back post because everyone in the stadium just knew Luiz Araujo was about to bury the first one of the night. He had an outstanding look on goal and it would have been a simple strike for a man of his talent.
But he didn’t take the shot. Instead, he dipped the ball back through Miami’s defenders to the spot Josef should have been in had he continued his run, and Josef would’ve had an empty net to poke the ball into. Say what you want about that sequence, but I personally think Luiz was committing an act of pure selflessness to try and put one on a platter for Josef. But Josef, being the selfless guy he also is, figured Araujo had that one in the bag. No matter how you look at it though, a few moments later history was made.
George Bello churned up one of his MANY runs down the left wing while the rest of Atlanta’s front lines prepared to fly into the box. He delivered a nifty, direct cross right into the waiting arm of none other than Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. A penalty was immediately given. I can’t think of a more fitting way for Josef to be set up for his historic moment. All match long Atlanta’s players tried and tried to give the one to Josef, but it just wouldn’t happen. And then one of the Five Stripe’s most beloved former players steps in and gifts him a penalty. It truly was almost like destiny.
LGP argued with the ref for a long time, Josef Martinez (we now know) almost handed the ball to someone else to take the kick because of the immense pressure, and all 42,000 fans at MBS pulled out their phones to record the moment. The ref blew the whistle, Josef hopped, stutter-stepped, approached the ball, jumped, and drove home a strike into the history books. Mercedes-Benz Stadium exploded in absolute glee. He was handed a jersey with his name and the number “100” while the entire team celebrated. It was a glorious moment for him, the club, and the entire city of Atlanta. Just look at the stadium, and like I said in the post-match quotes article, there are thousands more videos like this one out there:
Just for good measure, this is getting reposted again. Still riding that high from last night!! Legendary! @JosefMartinez17 @ATLUTD #Josef100 #UniteAndConquer #SomosATL @VamosATLUTD pic.twitter.com/Vwcr8fWmA7— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) September 30, 2021
If anyone is wondering, the club store at the stadium sold out of the “100” shirts before the match really even got started again. Social media is still blowing up about it. Darren Eales has put out a contest for people to recreate their favorite Josef goal and submit it to win an opportunity to watch a match with him and meet El Rey himself. Josef won Man of the Match and came to tears when speaking with Jillian Sakovits and making his walk around the pitch. And that’s what Atlanta loves about him and this team as a whole. They, and especially Josef, put their emotions out there in a way that allows the fans to feel a connection. It makes them seem less like players and more like friends because they and the supporters all encounter the same emotions when something happens, and that’s a good thing. Now, get the tissue box ready, because this one will make you feel all kinds of ways:
He's given us so much. Now, here's our appreciation back.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 1, 2021
All the feels, @JosefMartinez17 ❤️
Miggy, Tata, Parky, Joe Hart, Robert Lewandowski, so many kids and families to whom he means the world...his dad...his grandparents. I won’t even try to put it into better words than what was said, and not said, in that video. Sometimes the tears do all the talking.
And those are the four things to know about Atlanta United this week. Build the freaking statue.