Josef Martinez put Atlanta United up 1-0 inside of 20 minutes, but three second-half goals from Columbus Crew SC saw it leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 3-1 win.
Atlanta definitely looked like a team with a long layoff, but that changed briefly in the 19th minute on some beautiful buildup play. Emerson Hyndman struck a perfect ball to Pity Martinez in space and the Argentinian placed it on a platter to Josef Martinez - who ended the pretty sequence by scoring in his 14th-straight MLS match.
Too hot to handle at @MBStadium pic.twitter.com/dqrooXPqJO— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 14, 2019
But things went downhill from there. Gyasi Zardes leveled it in the 53rd minute after Brad Guzan mishanded an initial shot from Luis Diaz, followed by a 60th-minute tally from Diaz himself to make it 2-1. The Crew sealed it in the 85th thanks to an own goal conceded by Miles Robinson to make it 3-1.
A recap thought
Well...that was frustrating. With two weeks of rest behind it, Atlanta should have been able to put a team like Columbus to the sword early and often, but while it looked like Martinez’s goal would provide a spark, that spark was short-lived as they looked flat and mistake-prone for much of the evening. It’s a familiar feeling as United are left wanting against one of MLS’ minnows once more - after what Frank de Boer proclaimed a rough week in training. Would having an injured Ezequiel Barco or a suspended Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (yellow card accumulation) helped provide a positive result?
“You never know,” he said. “The players that played today also showed their quality. I don’t search for excuses - it was not the best week. We have to change that. We have enough time to do that because we have to.”
Some good news out of the night: Atlanta did clinch a playoff spot with Montreal Impact’s 1-0 loss to FC Cincinnati at home. But if they’re to get a home playoff game, it has work to do as it now sits 9 points out of first place behind NYCFC and 4 points in back of the Philadelphia Union for second, with a match in hand on both. Only the top two teams in the conference are guaranteed to host in the first two rounds. If Atlanta can’t get in that position, it will look back on this match and others like it: July 3 at Chicago, March 10 at home against FC Cincinnati, March 30 in Columbus...you get the idea.
“After we went up 1-0, our game went completely out the window,” said Julian Gressel in a quiet locker room. “You can’t get like that, espectially in preparation for the playoffs. Now, every single moment of a game matters.”
By the way, Josef scored in his 14th straight MLS match. It might turn into an own goal, though. It is what it is.
DSS Man of the Match
Let’s go with Darlington Nagbe. It’s always tough on a night like this, but he made the least mistakes.
Tweet of the Night
Our crown to defend.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 15, 2019
Hungrier than ever. pic.twitter.com/ausmvnETbS
Away to FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.