Josef Martinez is glad that he has been able to give Atlanta United supporters plenty of reasons to be cheerful after guiding the Five Stripes back into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Atlanta have won back-to-back matches without conceding since going down 2-0 to Nashville SC in Gonzalo Pineda’s first match, with that the only game they have failed to win in their last seven.
That incredible run of form leaves United in strong contention for a postseason spot as they prepare to take on another playoff rival in D.C. United on Saturday.
After adding two more goals to his growing season tally in the 4-0 win over FC Cincinnati, Martinez dedicated the three points to Atlanta’s passionate fans.
“We’re trying to give the joy back to the fanbase,” Martinez said. “And now we’re fighting for these playoff spots and I think we deserve it.
“Defensively we have been so good. We have to continue those moments because we are so close to a shot at something special.”
D.C. United have won two and drawn one of their last three matches and enter this contest a point better off than Atlanta.
In his first season outside of Belgium, Hernan Losada – the youngest head coach in MLS – has the Black-and-Red on course for an impressive finish that even he did not predict.
“My reaction would be you are totally nuts,” he said when asked if he thought a top-seven finish was possible.
“That’s impossible and tell me where do I have to sign to make that real. That would have been my reaction.
“I have to be honest with you, I didn’t expect to be where we are right now. Now comes the fun part – 11 games to go and I’m very excited with everything that can happen.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Atlanta United – Alan Franco
Center back Franco has not only played a part in back-to-back clean sheets for Atlanta, but he has also been a massive influence at the other end of the field.
He became the first player in the club’s history to record three assists in the same game last time out, though that does include a ‘second-assist’ for one of Martinez’s goals.
D.C. United – Ola Kamara
After scoring all three goals in the 3-0 win over Chicago Fire in midweek, Kamara now leads the MLS scoring charts with 16 to his name in total. That was the 31-year-old’s first hat-trick since May 2016 and was the third time this season he has scored multiple goals in a match.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– None of the 11 meetings between Atlanta United and D.C. United have ended in a draw (D.C. United W6, Atlanta W5). Atlanta has won three of the last four matches, including the lone meeting this season, a 2-1 win in D.C. on August 21.
– Atlanta United has won six of its last seven games (L1), including the last two by a combined score of 7-0 (3-0 vs Orlando, 4-0 vs FC Cincinnati). Atlanta has won consecutive matches by three or more goals for the first time since September 2017 when it beat Dallas, 3-0, and New England, 7-0.
– D.C. United is unbeaten in three straight matches (W2 D1) following a 3-0 win over Chicago on Wednesday. D.C. has allowed just two goals over the three-match run after conceding 10 times in its previous three matches, all losses.
– Josef Martínez recorded his 21st multi-goal MLS match in Atlanta United’s win over FC Cincinnati on Wednesday (including playoffs). Only six players in MLS history have recorded more multi-goal games than Martínez.
– Ola Kamara moved to the top of the MLS scoring charts with a hat-trick against the Fire on Wednesday. Kamara scored all three of his goals before halftime, becoming the first D.C. United player to score a first-half hat trick since Luis Silva against Montreal in June 2014.