Leandro Gonzalez Pirez grabbed a rare goal and Josef Martinez scored in his MLS-record 11th straight game as Atlanta United again claimed victory over the Portland Timbers in the teams' first meeting since MLS Cup 2018.
The Five Stripes put themselves on the front foot from the start, and were rewarded from a corner kick in the 14th minute. Martinez's flicked effort from the set piece was blocked, but the Timbers were unable to clear the loose ball and Gonzalez Pirez was on hand to slam home his first goal in nearly a year.
There were plenty of chances to be found on both ends of the field after the opener, including a golden chance that Jeremy Ebobisse couldn't convert to equalize. One of the biggest talking points of the game came a few minutes before halftime, when Pity Martinez got in behind the Timbers backline, only to have the ball nicked away from him by a sliding Bill Tuiloma. Martinez went down under the challenge, prompting fierce penalty shouts from the visitors but no Video Review. Just a minute later, Ezequiel Barco missed another chance to double Atlanta's lead when his breakaway effort was stopped by Steve Clark.
Atlanta would forget all about that frustration just 45 seconds into the second half. Julian Gressel broke two Portland lines with a sumptuous through ball for Josef Martinez, who just need one touch to set up a brilliant curling shot from outside the box for his 21st tally of the year. The goal ultimately proved to be the cherry on top of a memorable evening for Atlanta, whose dogged defensive play meant there was no way back for the hosts.
- THE BIG PICTURE: Atlanta have now risen to the top of the East on the total wins tiebreaker and look ready to stay there. Is it too early to start dreaming of a titanic MLS Cup showdown with LAFC? Probably, as lot can happen in two-plus months, but it's a tantalizing thought nonetheless. On the flip side, the home loss will sting for Portland, as they remain seventh in the West after missing a chance to create separation from the chasing pack in the Western Conference. Still, they have played the fewest games of any West contenders, and should still feel confident about their playoff chances.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Atlanta's second goal was not only a moment of brilliance from both Josef and Gressel, it provided an important cushion with Portland turning up the heat going forward in the second half.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: He didn't end up on the scoresheet, but it's clear that Pity Martinez is finding his feet with Atlanta United. The MLS record signing was Atlanta's attacking catalyst throughout the night, befuddling Portland's defense with his technique and ability to gracefully slip by tackles – he's a true joy to watch, and Atlanta fans will be delighted if he continues to play like this down the stretch run. Shouts as well to Brad Guzan for his role in the clean sheet, including a stunning one-handed stop on Julio Cascante in the 64th minute.
- Portland: Friday, August 23 vs. Seattle (10 pm ET | ESPN in the USA, TVAS in Canada)
- Atlanta: Friday, August 23 at Orlando (8 pm ET | ESPN in the USA, TVAS in Canada)