In a marquee matchup featuring the last three Golden Boot presented by Audi winners, Josef Martinez scored his first goal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in nearly two years, helping lead Atlanta United to a 1-0 win over LAFC Sunday.
Featured in the same starting XI for only the second time this season, Ezequiel Barco teed up Martinez for the opening goal a little more than a minute into the second half. A long ball from Marcelino Moreno that deflected off Jesus Murillo’s leg fell perfectly into Barco’s path. The open Argentine slipped a pass to Martinez, who did what he did best, clinically finishing first-time past Tomas Romero from 16 yards out.
LAFC pressed for the equalizer but Jose Cifuentes, who came on at halftime, rattled the crossbar with a near equalizer two minutes later.
In the 64th minute, Carlos Vela rolled a pass to Cristian Arango on a dangerous free kick, but the newly-signed Colombian forward fired a low shot just wide of the net and in the 82nd minute, Diego Rossi missed the target on LAFC's last quality chance after a back-heel service by Arango.
Both teams created chances in an entertaining, yet scoreless, first half. Barco had a 26-yard free kick deflect off Latif Blessing in the LAFC wall in the 32nd minute.
Barco then found Martinez in the box three minutes later on a quick transition following an LAFC turnover in midfield. Martinez cut the ball back to his right foot, but Romero made the save at the edge of his six-yard box.
Moments later, Brian Rodriguez forced Brad Guzan to make a diving save off a low shot toward the far post.
The big talking point from the opening 45 minutes came five minutes from halftime when Mamadou Fall latched onto a sublime Eduard Atuesta whipped-in free kick to head in what appeared to be his first MLS goal at the back post. But referee Chris Penso went to the monitor where the goal was called back for offside following Video Review.
Just before the halftime whistle, Fall played to Rossi, who toe-poked wide after Guzan came off his line to challenge.
And just after the restart, Barco and Martinez combined to help Atlanta United claim all three points in the star-studded affair.
- 47’ — ATL — Josef Martinez
- THE BIG PICTURE: It was back to the future for Atlanta, with Barco and Martinez combining for a goal in a win in front of 60,000-plus at the Benz. It’s back-to-back wins for the Five Stripes for the first time in 18 months and three consecutive unbeaten ahead of Gonzalo Pineda’s arrival as the new manager. LAFC, which has a club-record six-match winless streak, will feel hard done by with Murillo’s miscue on the goal. If he lets Moreno's long ball go, or manages to head it out of touch, LAFC likely don’t concede. The visitors were the better team for much of the second half with Fall impressing in his first MLS start and second appearance. But Bob Bradley saw his fractured backline suffer yet another injury with Diego Palacios helped off in the final quarter hour.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Goals change games and Martinez is one of the best game-changers in MLS. If the Barco-Martinez partnership can kick into gear in the second half of the season, look out.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Another impressive performance by Barco, who has been maddeningly inconsistent since his big-money move from Independiente. The 22-year-old has made it three straight games with a goal or an assist since his return from the Olympics. Barco also completed 86.7 percent of his passes and won 80 percent of his duels.
LAFC: Saturday, August 21 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC | 7:00pm PT | My13 KCOP, Estrella TV, 1110 AM ESPN, ESPN App, KTMZ 1220 AM | MLS regular season