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ATLUTD, TFC each blow a lead, settle for testy 2-2 draw

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The game in 100 words (or less more): Atlanta United versus Toronto FC is a playoff matchup the world must witness in 2018. The former is (just about) inarguably the best team in MLS, and the latter is still the defending champions slowly (and finally) awakening from their slumber. Tata Martino’s side came into the weekend with a four-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race (with barely double-digit games remaining), and nearly grew it to seven (before New York City FC face Vancouver Whitecaps later on Saturday), but ultimately settled for a draw after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer (Tosaint Ricketts) to drop a pair of points. Josef Martinez (26 goals) scored twice more — his sixth multi-goal game of 2018 — to move to within one of tying the single-season MLS record (Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter). Atlanta, who have lost just once since mid-May, held TFC to just five shots (two on target, both goals) over 90 minutes — to Atlanta’s 22 and seven. Up 1-0 at halftime (Sebastian Giovinco), TFC would have moved to within two points of the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with a win, but could now finish the weekend as many as seven points back, depending on what New England Revolution and Montreal Impact do. It is no longer “early.”

[ MORE: Beckham’s MLS team hires sporting director away from Atlanta ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

45+1′  — Giovinco coolly finishes past Guzan for 1-0 — Jozy Altidore‘s absence absolutely devastated TFC for much of this season, as his hold-up and playmaking abilities couldn’t be replaced. It looks like the easiest part of the below passage, but neither the cross from Auro nor the finish from Giovinco are possible without Altidore’s patience, vision and perfectly weight ball for the overlapping full back.

51′ — Martinez wins, converts a penalty to make it 1-1 — Every instance of contact is now a foul. There is no point to video review in MLS, because the league’s referees either 1) don’t know how to use it properly, or 2) refuse to use it.

67′ — Martinez heads home for 2-1 — His diving antics aside, Martinez is an absolute joy to watch. He’s relentless, he’s brilliant with his movement and timing of runs, he’s always in the exact spot defenders don’t want him to be. He’s also got an embarrassment of chance-creating talent around him. Hector Villalba, for instance would be the best attacker for a number of MLS teams. In Atlanta, it’s Oh yeah, they have Villalba, too. That seems unfair.

90+1′ — Ricketts bundles home a late equalizer — All-out attacking is the only way Atlanta know to play, and every now and then it costs them dearly. Like, for instance, when they get caught on the counter with a one-goal lead in second-half stoppage time. Self-inflicted wounds, to be sure.

90+5′ — Mavinga sees red, will miss a few games — Chris Mavinga, clearly frustrated (and perhaps provoked) lost his head just as the final whistle was blown. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was the recipient of a forceful hand to the face — and fell to the ground like a 500-pound sack of potatoes, of course. Mavinga will get a two- or three-game suspension, and Jozy Altidore might have to answer a few questions about placing his hand around the neck/throat of Miguel Almiron, who was part of the events which set the above in motion, as the two walked off the field. Again, if we could get these two teams to face each other in November, that would be fantastic.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Giovinco (45+1′), Martinez (53′ – PK, 67′), Ricketts (90+1′)

Juventus wins MLS All-Star Game in PKs

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The MLS All Star Game couldn’t be decided over 90 minutes in Atlanta, and Bradley Wright-Phillips missed the lone penalty kick as Juventus ran out winners.

Juventus opened the scoring off a set piece, with Andrea Favilli nodding home in the 21st minute.

Josef Martinez leveled score on a goofy play which found Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny all over the place.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Martinez knocked a cross down to Carlos Vela, whose shot was parried by Szczesny. The goalkeeper couldn’t find his feet to track the loose ball, and Ignacio Piatti headed the ball back across the six.

Martinez got his head to it for 1-1 (video below).

The final 15 minutes saw the teams angling for a winner, with Diego Valeri denied by Mehdi Benatia goal line clearance and Juve’s Leandro Fernandes sending an arrow just over the bar.

History of MLS All Star Game
1996: East 3-2 West
1997: East 5-4 West
1998: USA 6-1 World
1999: East 4-6 West
2000: East 9-4 West
2001: East 6-6 West
2002: MLS 3-2 USMNT
2003: MLS 3-1 Chivas Guadalajara
2004: East 3-2 West
2005: MLS 4-1 Fulham
2006: MLS 1-0 Chelsea
2007: MLS 2-0 Celtic
2008: MLS 3-2 West Ham United
2009: MLS 1-1 Everton (Everton wins in PKs)
2010: MLS 2-5 Manchester United
2011: MLS 0-4 Manchester United
2012: MLS 3-2 Chelsea
2013: MLS 1-3 AS Roma
2014: MLS 2-1 Bayern Munich
2015: MLS 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
2016: MLS 1-2 Arsenal
2017: MLS 1-1 (2-4 PKs) Real Madrid
2018: MLS 1-1 (3-5 PKs) Juventus

3 things we learned from busy MLS Saturday night

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1) FC Dallas is king of the West

FC Dallas has had road issues of late. Sporting KC is rock solid at home.

Not tonight.

The top team in the Western Conference asserted its dominance with a 3-1 victory, marked by a moment of brilliance from Michael Barrios 23 minutes in. And then another 62 minutes in. And then another 74 minutes in.

The defense bunkered in from there. Matt Hedges is playing at the top of his game, and had another fantastic night. FC Dallas didn’t have a clean sheet this month until tonight, and they earned it…until they didn’t. That’s when Dallas stepped up. With the game level shortly after halftime, Barrios got his second of the game and second of the season on an lol from Tim Meila, and his third/third on a turn and shoot. The second half wasn’t always pretty, but it got the job done, and that’s what the best teams do. With its road woes shut down – temporarily, at least – the team to beat is clear.

2) Josef Martinez showing no signs of stopping

The Venezuelan is having one of the most historic seasons in MLS seasons, plain and simple, full-stop. Now with 24 goals in 23 matches after another brace in a 2-1 win for Atlanta over Montreal on the road, Martinez is scoring in every way possible.

On his first tonight, he smartly backed off a tempting through-ball knowing he was offside, drifting back while a teammate chased. Sure enough, he returned to a legal position and snuck behind the center-backs with a brilliant little step back at the moment the cross was delivered, and easily dispatched the chance. It was the perfect display of superior striker senses, understanding not only his position on the field relative to everyone else, but how to anticipate opponent movement to be in the proper place.

His second goal was as messy as they come, tapping home a scrum in the Montreal box after hilariously poor defending from the hosts. It was one of those that makes you think “of course it’s that guy again…of course.” When a guy is having such a stunning year, there’s plenty of talent and always just a little luck. With just three goals needed to tie the single season goalscoring record and 11 matches to do it, this season feels like the Martinez Show.

3) Is Toronto FC back? Can they make a run?

Toronto FC is back, right? A 3-0 clobbering of the Chicago Fire has Sebastian Giovinco and company at 22 points, and the Italian grabbed a goal alongside Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio to put the Canadian club clean through. With the result, they’ve won two straight, both against Chicago and by a combined 5-1 score. It’s tough to get a bead on if they’re truly put together given both results have come against the same opponent, but just six points back of a playoff spot, they’re most certainly not out of it should things turn around for real.

“We’ve got four in a row now,” Gregory van der Wiel said after the game, referencing the pair of MLS results bracketed in between two Canadian Cup wins against Ottawa FC. “The team is in a good way.” They are…if it’s for real.

MLS 3 Things: Unstoppable Martinez grills DC in surge toward record

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Josef Martinez bagged his MLS record sixth career hat trick, and moved to within five goals of the single season goal record as Atlanta United battered DC United 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Caps’ Davies nears Bayern move ]

1) The MLS record book better get used to his name: Martinez now has 22 goals in 22 matches this season, and he’s going to break the Major League Soccer single season goal record if he’s at least half as productive over the final 12 matches.

Martinez has goals in nine of his last 10 matches. He got luck to set up his third, but look at this composed finish.

2) Another American milestone: 18-year-old USMNT prospect Andrew Carleton made his first MLS start and helped set-up Martinez’s second goal, which gave Atlanta United its first lead.

3) Rooney fails to find score sheet: England hero Wayne Rooney couldn’t find a goal or assist after picking up one of the latter in his debut. This time it was a start for Rooney, who went 66 minutes and earned a yellow card to go with his second shot.

Atlanta comes back to draw 10-man Seattle (video)

Atlanta United / @ATLUTD
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A scrappy if not downright venomous affair between the lowly Seattle Sounders and high-flying Atlanta United ended in a 1-1 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

The Sounders went ahead through a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick, awarded via VAR a la this morning’s World Cup Final, but Atlanta leveled the score with a highlight which show every bit of the game story.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Just check Josef Martinez’s barking at Stefan Frei, who made an uncharacteristic error on the play, after his 19th goal of the season (Nice cross, Julian Gressel).

Martinez needs nine more goals to break the MLS single season record, and he has 13 games to score them.

Jordan McCrary was sent off for Seattle in the 63rd minute for a second yellow, but Seattle navigated the final half hour or so to scoop up an unlikely point.

Atlanta still sits first with its earned point but opens the door for New York City FC to reach the top of the table when it plays its match-in-hand, while Seattle is now 11 points back of the West’s final playoff spot.