2019 MLS Week 26 Preview — Philadelphia Union (14-6-8) vs. Atlanta United (15-3-9)

Josef Martinez is not going to let go of his Golden Boot and single-season goal-scoring record without a fight.

Martinez looks to further his MLS-record goal-scoring streak to 13 matches and gain ground on current goals leader Carlos Vela on Saturday night as the Atlanta United look to create separation atop the Eastern Conference with a victory over the Philadelphia Union.

The Venezuela international is currently tied for the third-longest goal-scoring streak in world history with Robert Lewandowski, who accomplished the feat with Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga in 2012-13. The only players ahead of him are Tor Henning Hamre, who bagged 21 goals in a 15-game run with Estonian side Flora Tallinn in 2003, and Lionel Messi, who unsurprisingly set the standard with a 17-match run bridging the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons during which he racked up a staggering 33 goals.

Martinez set the single-season goal-scoring record last year with 31 to help Atlanta (15-3-9) win the MLS Cup, but that mark is in Vela’s crosshairs as the LAFC forward already has 27 for the Supporters’ Shield frontrunner with seven matches remaining. Martinez is tied with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for second and has potted 17 goals during his purple patch of scoring.

More importantly, the goals are helping keep the Five Stripes in the hunt for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, with Atlanta riding a six-match winning streak in all competitions into the city of Brotherly Love. Martinez’s goal on the hour proved decisive in a 1-0 victory at Orlando City SC on Aug. 23 and was also his third match-winner during his lengthy run.

Before this game, Atlanta became the holder of both major U.S. trophies with its 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday night. An own goal by Chase Gasper and strike by Pity Martinez in the first 16 minutes set the Five Stripes on their way, but it was a nervy finish as they played the final 16 minutes and stoppage time with 10 men after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was sent off.

Overall, it is the third trophy in nine months for Atlanta, who also won the Campeones Cup by defeating Liga MX champion Club America earlier this month. The U.S. Open Cup triumph gives the Five Stripes entry into the CONCACAF Champions League.

“It’s a feeling of, yeah, we’ll enjoy tonight, and we understand what it’s about to win trophies and win big tournaments,” keeper Brad Guzan said, “but ultimately, there’s a big one later on in a few months, and so, we’ve got a big game Saturday. So, mentally, we’ve got to make sure we recharge the batteries and find a way to go up there and put together a performance that allows us to get a result.”

Philadelphia (14-6-8) is level with Atlanta on 48 points but trails in the table due to the wins tiebreaker. The Union have won three of their last four and put D.C. United on the back foot early with goals by Kacper Przybylko and Brenden Aronsen in the first 16 minutes en route to a 3-0 victory last Saturday.

Przybylko factored on all three goals as he assisted on Aronsen’s goal and Ilsinho’s in the 36th minute. The club leader with 12 goals, the Union rewarded their target forward by picking up the option on his contract for the 2020 season. Przybylko’s 0.57 goals-per match ratio is on pace to be the highest single-season mark in club history.

“From the moment we signed Kacper, he has worked incredibly hard to become a key contributor to our team,” said Ernst Tanner, Union Sporting Director. “Exercising his option was an easy decision for us as we continue to plan for 2020 and beyond while also aiming to finish 2019 strong.”

The Union have won three straight at home, where they are unbeaten in the last six (4-2-0) and 9-3-1 since a 3-1 season-opening loss to Toronto FC. Philadelphia is 0-2-3 all-time against Atlanta but earned a road point March 17 as Aronsen and Ezequiel Barco traded second-half goals.

(Josef Martinez photo courtesy Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

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