By: Sean Garnett
Atlanta United and Orlando City met for the 3rd time this season, and as the previous two meetings were very close, Saturday afternoon’s game proved to be both a close game and a very exciting match between two strong teams. A new MLS attendance record was set as 70,425 showed up to the magnificent Mercedes-Benz Stadium. During the match, Atlanta United would fall behind the visitors three times, and each time Josef Martinez would come through with a goal to tie the score. The game ended in a 3-3 draw. Atlanta United came into the game with a 12-8-6 record and Orlando City with a 9-12-7 record.
Orlando City opened the match with a goal in the 10th minute against the run of play, as Atlanta United was pressing Orlando City relentlessly in the first minutes of play. Dom Dwyer scored a nice header off a left-footed cross from Donny Toia to pull ahead of the home team. Toia played a high curling cross from the left flank, and Dwyer beat the Atlanta United defense by heading the ball back across the face of the goal to the left side netting just getting by the outstretched arms of Brad Guzan.
As the half wore on, Atlanta United continued to press the Orlando City bunch with several chances that started with combination play in the midfield that would set the wingers free on the flanks. Orlando City goalkeeper, Joseph Bendik, had to come up big quite a few times to keep Atlanta United off the scoreboard.
In the 36th minute, Atlanta United finally broke free and finished a chance that came from the foot of Josef Martinez. Tito Villalba played a perfectly weighted through ball to Julian Gressel, who had made a great run out of the midfield. Gressel played the ball from the end line back across the face of the goal, beating the Orlando City defense, to a wide-open Martinez, who would tap in the goal to tie the game. Villalba and Gressel were both credited with assists on the play. Villalba continued his dominance over the Orlando City side as he would tally two assists on the afternoon, matching his two previous goals that he scored in earlier games. The two assists from Villalba moved the Argentinian into 3rd on the team with 8 assists. Gressel’s assist moved him into 4th on the team with 7 assists on the season.
Orlando City answered Martinez’ goal very quickly as only 3 minutes later in the 39th minute Dwyer struck again with his 7th goal of the season. The Dwyer strike came off an assist from Scott Sutter and quieted a rowdy Atlanta United crowd as they were still celebrating the tieing score that happened just a few minutes earlier. The game would go into halftime with the visiting Orlando City team up 2-1.
Head Coach, Tata Martino, who seems to be highly respected by the players, had a difficult task in managing his squad with so many games close together. Saturday’s game was tough in that Martino sent a back line out that had not played together all year. Martino gave the night off to LGP and Greg Garza and started Larentowicz and McCann in their places. Coach Martino took the blame for the 3 goals against Atlanta United this afternoon, as it’s difficult to throw a back line out against a good countering team like Orlando City for the first time.
The second half would open up much like the first half with relentless runs coming from the right flank as Anton Walkes overlapped, from his right back position, Tito Villalba time and time again to press the Orlando City defense. The team seemed to respond and draw energy from the amazing Atlanta United fan base as endless chants and cheers no doubt energized and urged the players to play on through tired legs.
In the 55th minute, Martinez would score his 2nd goal of the match on a header that was nearly identical to that of the Orlando City first goal. Martinez skyed between two defenders to viciously finish a perfect back-post cross from the left foot of Chris McCann. The header was the 15th goal of the season for Martinez.
Orlando City would answer again just as the first half with another go-ahead goal only 3 minutes later as Cyle Larin would find the net with his head off a Dwyer cross in the 58th minute. Dwyer played a big part in each Orlando City goal as he had 2 goals and 1 assist on the afternoon.
However, In the 69th minute, Martinez would prove to be one goal better than Dwyer as he would yet again draw Atlanta United back even with his 3rd goal of the game and 16th goal of the season. Villalba would tally his 2nd assist on the afternoon when he played a great near post ball behind the Orlando City defense. Martinez made a hard, tactical run near post and made a tough one-touch finish look very easy. With that goal, Martinez would move into 4th place on the MLS scoring list, only 3 goals behind Villa of NYCFC. Martinez plays with a passion and intensity that would make the casual soccer fan a big supporter of both Martinez and the beautiful game of soccer. Josef Martinez now has 7 goals in the past 3 games and is showing his dominance as he has come off of his injury and is playing at another level.
The game ended in a 3-3 draw, but not until Orlando City had to defend an array of chances by the home team. Miguel Almiron used his speed to create a couple of chances that just missed the frame of the goal. While substitute, Tyrone Mears, continued the relentless pressure from the right defender position with quality runs out of the back to create chances off of crosses from the flank. The Atlanta United squad did not disappoint the record-setting crowd as they played through tired legs and brought outstanding effort, combined with tactical ball movement to make for an exciting afternoon of soccer between two strong teams.