How can a surging Atlanta United team pass upcoming test against LAFC?

Josef Martinez – Atlanta United – kneeling celebration

ATLANTA – Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over D.C. United last Sunday vaulted the Five Stripes into second place in the Eastern Conference standings, setting up a tantalizing match this Friday (10 pm ET | ESPN in US, TSN2 in Canada) at Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC in what is sure to be a marquee match of the MLS season.

“It’s going to be an exciting game,” said Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan after beating the Black-and-Red. “They’re a good team ... I’m sure you guys outside of the locker rooms will hype it up as much as you can. (We) know that it’s a big game, but it’s not the end all be all. It’s a chance for us to continue to pick up points and keep this short run of games going in a positive direction.”

The matchup features two of the league’s top strikers in Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez. The former (21 goals) is on pace to break the latter’s single-season goals record (31 goals) set a season ago. 

Martinez joked at training last week that watching LAFC and Vela “makes me want to cry,” alluding to the brand of soccer Bob Bradley’s team plays. The question for Frank de Boer’s defense is how one stops the Mexican forward.

“Take away his left foot, I guess, see if we can chop it off and see what we can do with that,” Guzan said laughing. “Bob (Bradley) does a really good job of making sure his teams are well organized, but also fluid in their attack. We’re expecting nothing but their best come Friday night.”

Atlanta will hope his team will get a boost from one of its star players, Pity Martinez, who has performed below his own personal standard so far this season. However, the Argentine record signing scored the game-winner and added an assist in the waning moments of Sunday’s win.

“He can be just as big as (Miguel Almiron) was and be a big star,” said Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel. “He is just going to have to keep working, working within the team, getting adjusted to things and then I’m sure everybody will see what he can really do.”

Martinez was used off the bench for both of Atlanta’s wins last week, which also included a 5-0 romp over a 10-man Houston Dynamo side. Now, the former River Plate star hopes to once again be a difference-maker against one of the best teams in MLS.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game, a complicated game, but we have what it takes to go out to win and we have to do that,” said Pity Martinez. “Go out to win. Atlanta deserves that and us as a group, as well. If we have the desire to be first in the conference, then we have to play to win on every field.