While the goals continue to come for Josef Martinez, Atlanta United are going to need more sources of offense if they are to repeat as MLS Cup champions.
Martinez looks to extend his MLS-record goal-scoring streak to 14 matches and help the Five Stripes secure a spot in the postseason Saturday night when they host the Columbus Crew.
Success has a price, and in the case of Atlanta United (15-3-10) it was absorbing a 3-1 defeat at Philadelphia on Aug. 31 ahead of the international break. The combination of extra U.S. Open Cup matches and a Campeones Cup match versus Club America – both of which ended with Frank de Boer’s team triumphantly lifting trophies – also resulted in heavy legs that contributed to them slipping to third in the East.
“I think it’s clear to see that guys were carrying some heavy legs, but again you know it’s not an excuse,” said keeper Brad Guzan, who did not get much of a respite as he represented the U.S. in a 1-1 draw against Uruguay on Tuesday night. “We stand up to it, we own it. [Philadelphia Union] are a good team, don’t take anything away from them, they’ve got good players. This was always going to be a tough game, regardless of our schedule leading to it.
“We now need to make sure we recover, and rest up mentally and physically the final push of the last few regular season games we come with good results.”
Martinez was not recalled by Venezuela for international duty, allowing him to rest for a fortnight after extending his amazing goal-scoring run in first-half stoppage time versus the Union. He has 18 goals over his 13-match run, which is the third-longest in global soccer history and two shy of matching Tor Henning Hamre’s 15-game run with Estonian side Flora Tallinn in 2003 for second.
Guzan was not the only player to represent the Yanks during the international break as defender Miles Robinson made his senior team debut as a 58th-minute substitute in the 3-0 loss to Mexico on Sept. 6.
The Crew (8-17-5) have faint playoff hopes at best with 31 points, entering this contest in 11th place and eight back of the New England Revolution for the final spot in the East. Columbus is 3-1-5 in its last nine matches but again settled for one point when it needed three before the international break, conceding a 94th-minute goal in a 1-1 draw versus the Chicago Fire on Aug. 31.
“It’s not the first time, it’s not the second time. We’ve dropped two points and three points, eight, nine, 10 times,” Crew coach Caleb Porter lamented. “We’re right there every game, I’ve said it, we’re right there every game. We do so much good, but we have to be better in the latter stages of games when it comes down to it.”
Playmaker Wil Trapp and striker Gyasi Zardes were with Guzan and Robinson for the U.S. during the break while keeper Eloy Room helped Curacao to a 1-1 draw versus Haiti in CONCACAF Nations League play. Midfielder Luis Diaz made his Costa Rica debut in the Tico’s Sept. 6 friendly versus Uruguay.
Columbus is seeking the double over Atlanta after a 2-0 home win March 30 on first-half goals by Zardes and Pedro Santos while preventing Martinez from even attempting a shot. The Five Stripes avenged that loss with a 3-2 win in the round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup on June 18 thanks to a brace from Brandon Vazquez and are 5-1-1 all-time versus the Crew, including 2-0-1 in Atlanta.
(Josef Martinez photo courtesy Derik Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)