Atlanta United hosted southern rival Orlando City SC in front of an MLS record-sellout crowd of 70,425 fans. With the upper portion of Mercedes-Benz Stadium open to fans, you could really feel the excitement in the air all match long. Few changes were made to the starting XI due to injuries and suspensions. Jeff Larentowicz started at center back, Chris McCann replaced Greg Garza and left wingback, and Julian Gressel started in the midfield where Larentowicz would have been (he’s replacing the suspended Leandro Gónzalez-Pirez).
It was an evenly matched contest from the starting whistle, but it was Orlando who struck first in the 10′. Winger Danny Toia launched a beautiful cross into the 18-yard box to Dom Dwyer who nailed an impressive header to take the lead 1-nil.
United got their revenge in the 35′ when Tito Villalba sent a low cross in front of goal that was led off by Julian Gressel and tapped in by striker Josef Martinez. But the scoring team is most vulnerable right after they score, which was demonstrated by Orlando’s Dom Dwyer who scored a header just two minutes after Atlanta’s Martinez.
The second half saw an onslaught of attack and little defending on the part of both clubs. Already up 2-1, Martinez responded with another goal. Orlando hit back with a header from Cyle Larin to take the lead back 3-2, but Martinez responded with yet another goal to draw the game back to 3-3. This marks two straight matches with a hat-trick for Martinez.
Martinez played his heart out today and left everything on the pitch. He was visibly frustrated throughout the match but looked like he had enough energy to go another half. “He’s a game changer. He’s invaluable for us. Obviously, he’s a handful to defend against,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “He’s lethal and he loves to score goals. He gets disappointed when he doesn’t. He’s an extremely important part of this team. We’re thankful he’s on top of his game right now.”
My man of the match is Josef Martinez for single-handedly keeping United in the match the full 90. This rivalry has definitely lived up to all the hype and expectation.
Atlanta United (12-8-7, 43 points) returns to action Wednesday, Sept. 20 against LA Galaxy. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Shots: 17-10 Atlanta
Shots on Target: 7-5 Atlanta
Corner kicks: 11-3 Atlanta
Fouls committed: 12-12
Saves: 4-2 Orlando
Clearances: 39-15 Orlando
Offside: 6-2 Atlanta
Possession: 62-38 Atlanta
Passing Accuracy: 80-68 Atlanta
*Photos courtesy of Atlanta United