Atlanta United hosted the Philadelphia Union on a beautiful Saturday evening at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was a special occasion as this match was one of a handful where the roof was open for the fans.

The lineup for United was similar to last week’s except Chris McCann and Julian Gressel were set to man-down the wings.

Both teams had decent chances at the start of the match but about 18 minutes in things went awry. A penalty was given for Atlanta when Josef Martinez was fouled in the box. The Philadelphia Union players were upset about the call on Auston Trusty but they were all set up for Martinez to take the penalty. That’s when Haris Medunjanin walked past the arc (the semi-circle at the top of the 18-yard box) and was given a yellow card. The Union players lost it. After getting in the referee’s face with lots of pushing, shoving, and eventually punting the ball into the stands, Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya were issued red cards. The two ejections brought Philadelphia down to nine men with around 70 minutes to play.

Josef Martinez eventually took the penalty and converted the try but a lot has to be said for Philadelphia. Even after the ejections, the Union had three scoring chances before the end of the first half. Their striker C.J. Sapong was not giving up and their long ball on the counterattack was pushing Atlanta’s backline to the limit.

Josef Martinez
Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez ties the MLS record for most hat-tricks (5)

Atlanta opened up the second half with a goal in the 48′. Miguel Almirón sent a perfect cross in front of goal to the head of Martinez. But just nine minutes later, the Union made the best of a set piece and scored their first goal (with nine men). What initially looked like an offside call ended up being fair play and Fabrice-Jean Picault slotted home a low attempt past Brad Guzan.

In the 82′, a wild handball was given in the box and awarded Atlanta United another penalty which he converted. With this hat-trick, he has tied the most (5) in MLS history, set the record for how quick he earned them (just a year and a half), and has now scored 12 goals in 14 games.

In the dying minutes of the match, Jeff Larentowicz sent a beautiful through-ball to Brandon Vasquez past the keeper but mishandled the ball and his late attempt was blocked by keeper Andre Blake (who dove for his life to make the save). With 30 shots and 15 of those on goal, it was just that kind of night for the Five Stripes (not to mention 75% possession).

Unfortunately, Atlanta United’s overall play mirrored the nightmare that happened in New England: unfinished chances. The statistic above about the shots and shots on goal tells the same story of what plagued the lads in Boston. A few chances hit the woodwork, including a beautiful header from about 10 yards out by Martinez. Had it not been for the penalties this definitely would’ve been a draw. My thoughts were mirrored by their manager Tata Martino after the match. “If it was 11 v 11 we probably would’ve lost,” he said in a post-match press conference. “It’s concerning when a team isn’t intelligent to play 11 versus nine, to circulate the ball from side to side and get a lot of people in the box to finish the play.”

My Man of the Match goes to the record goal-scoring Josef Martinez. He’s barely in his second season and has five hat-tricks, not to mention leading the league in goals. Oh, and he and Almirón did the “fusion” celebration again.

The Five Stripes return to action Wednesday, June 6 at 5/3 Bank Stadium in Kennesaw for U.S. Open Cup action against Charleston Battery. They will return to MLS play Saturday, June 9 when they travel to face New York City FC.


-Jon J.

Photos: *Courtesy of ATLUTD

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