Gonzalo Martinez

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Three things we learned from Atlanta United-Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Level at one but holding the hosts at bay, Toronto FC looked content to drag the life out of the Eastern Conference Final. One of its attackers had other ideas, though, as Nick DeLeon dribbled into and then out of traffic to smash a shot past Brad Guzan from outside the box and earn the Reds their third MLS Cup Final berth in four years (all against Seattle Sounders).

The Five Stripes came out of the gates hot in both halves. Julian Gressel rolled a ball over the line in the fourth minute of the first half and Atlanta won a penalty with embellishment only to see Quentin Westberg deny Josef Martinez from the spot. Both Westberg and Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan were very decent in the first half, Nicolas Benezet’s equalizer a curling thing of beauty. A league with almost unrivaled home field advantage saw two celebrated home sides beaten by cagey former champions. MLS is a riot.

One more note: Here’s a nod to USMNT hero Michael Parkhurst, whose career ends one match short of another final.

“I have to say that today was resiliency,” said manager Greg Vanney. “It wasn’t beautiful soccer. These guys refused to give up, kept looking for their moment and got it. I don’t think there were too many statistical categories we won.”

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Three things we learned

1. Bradley, TFC caught sleeping early: Toronto FC’s hopes of taking the Mercedes Benz Stadium crowd out of this one took a seismic shake when Michael Bradley somehow didn’t realize Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was right behind him to blaze onto a terrific through ball from in-form Ezequiel Barco. Martinez held onto the ball as long as possible before sending a pass to Gressel for as easy a finish as you’ll see at this level. 1-0 in the fourth minute. Bradley then conceded a penalty to an embellishing but fouled Martinez, but French-American goalkeeper Quentin Westberg bailed him out with a fine save on Josef Martinez to keep the deficit at one. Buy him dinner, MB90.

2. TFC makes only attacking moments count: Nicolas Benezet quickly restored the deadlock with a terrific finish from the corner of the box. The ex-Guingamp midfielder ran onto a marvelous diagonal pass from center back Laurent Ciman. Benezet cut in freom the left and spun a curling effort toward the back post that ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan could not rescue before it rippled the netting for 1-1 in the 14th minute. You could argue that there wasn’t another threat from the Canadian side until DeLeon’s winner, which was a smashing shot to cap a smash and grab.

3. Westberg, Mavinga keep Reds in the match: Yes, of course, the penalty kick save was an outstanding moment for the former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeeper, but he would be needed many times over the course of the match including two moments in the first few moments of the second half. Decisive off his line and composed on it, the 33-year-old continues to validate Greg Vanney’s decision to put him in the lineup over MLS Cup winner Nick Bono. As for Chris Mavinga, the physical Congolese defender was a force. A few days after a Man of the Match performance in New York, Mavinga rebounded from an in-game injury to make two decisive interventions in the final five minutes.

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Man of the match: Westberg.

Goalscorers: Gonzalo Martinez (4′), Nicolas Benezet (14′), Nick DeLeon (78′)

Three things we learned from Atlanta-Philadelphia (video)

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The game in 200 words (or less): Atlanta United topped the Philadelphia Union by a final score of 1-0 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday, booking their return trip to the Eastern Conference final which they won in 2018 en route to lifting MLS Cup. Atlanta took an early lead through a delightful chip by Julian Gressel, set up by Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez’s 360-vision through ball (more on that in a moment), they never relinquished it, and Josef Martinez put the game away late. While the Five Stripes were far from their overwhelming, all-consuming selves on the scoreboard and stat sheet (just 12 shots, five on target), they allowed Philadelphia even less on the other end of the field (11 shots, three on target). Atlanta will host Toronto FC, in a matchup of the last three East champions and the last two MLS Cup winners, in the East final next Wednesday, Oct. 30.

[ MORE: Frank Lampard praises Christian Pulisic ]

Three things we learned

  • A Pity-ful moment: It’s true that Pity’s first season in Atlanta has (far) fallen well short of what Miguel Almiron contributed in 2018, but that was always going to be an unfair measuring stick for the Argentine. After spending all regular season (and the first round of the playoffs) in and out of the lineup, Pity got the call on Thursday and delivered the goods. This is an assist you’re not supposed to see, but Pity saw it all the way.

  • Don’t give Josef a glimpse. It’s too late: Good luck finding a finish better than this one from Josef. It couldn’t have been placed any better, whether higher or to the left, and there’s not a thing any goalkeeper in the world could have done to stop it. He had a few chances to find the back of the net in this one, and while he was largely wasteful on the night, he put the most difficult of all those chances away and showed once again that he can singlehandedly take over and change the course of a game, or an entire playoffs.

  • Atlanta with a sense of control: Coming into the season, the biggest question following Frank De Boer‘s appointment as Tata Martino’s replacement revolved around the clash of playing styles of the respective sides. Early on, it was a total disaster as De Boer tried to force square pegs into round holes. Eventually, though, he relented a fair bit of control and met his players somewhere in the middle (though, still closer to their end of the spectrum). In a way, this year’s edition of ATLUTD might actually be better suited to navigate the playoffs en route to lifting MLS Cup (if not for LAFC standing in their way). There was a large measure of control and maturity to the way they finished off this game.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez

Goalscorers: Gressel (10′), Martinez (80′)

Reports: Atlanta seals deal for Pity Martinez, will head to club Jan. 1

Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is still sorting out its Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup runs, but 2019 is also coming into focus.

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Reports say that Argentine winger Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will indeed be the star Atlanta signs to offset to presumed sale of Miguel Almiron, who may be moving to Arsenal amongst several rumored European clubs.

Multiple reports say the Five Stripes’ pursuit of Martinez has paid off, with the River Plate man ready to bring his flashy game to Georgia.

Martinez has 25 goals and 23 assists in 136 matches, and will reportedly cost Atlanta around $17.2 million. TNT Los Angeles says the move will happen January 1.

Martinez debuted for Argentina’s senior national team last month, and scored on debut against Guatemala. He ticks all the boxes for technical director Carlos Bocanegra and president Darren Eales.