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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.

MLS Things: Dockal leading Philly, Atlanta draws New England

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We have four nice midweek tilts in Major League Soccer this week, broken up nicely into early 7:30 ET kickoffs and a pair of late ones.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Here’s what we picked up from the first two.

Philadelphia can factor in the East and Borek Dockal is the real deal

Two assists and a clinical penalty are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Earnie Stewart’s Czech import.

The 29-year-old Dockal doesn’t waste much and is pretty wise about when he takes risks on the pitch, something culled from a series of decent Europa League runs with Sparta Prague and Rosenborg.

Only 12 players are averaging more than Dockal’s 2.4 key passes per game. Philly’s now unbeaten in four, having allowed just two goals in those matches, and right in the thick of the playoff race.

Ilsinho posterizes Schweinsteiger’s ankles

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been very, very good in a disappointing early season for the Fire, but he’ll be rueing his appearance in this highlight for some time.

Ilsinho absolutely cooks the World Cup winner with a lightning quick move just inside the box, then hammers a furious effort into the back of the net that leaves Chicago keeper Patrick McLain clawing for spirits.

What did we learn? Let me just keep watching this to find out.

For every great goal, there’s an equal and opposite

Now maybe I’m not the world’s top guy to analyze defending — nor amongst the top 10,000 — but what in the world is Antonio Delamea Milnar doing as Josef Martinez, who is pretty darn good, waits nine years for the world’s slowest cross to reach him in one of the most dangerous places on the pitch?

[ MORE: Arsenal could sell Ramsey ]

Asking for a friend. A late Teal Bunbury penalty did allow New England to pick up a nice 1-1 draw.

Three MLS Things: Growing pains in ORL; hat-trick hero

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD
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The third Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and we learned a few (more) things along the way.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

One game is just one game; two games is too small of a sample size; but three games is the beginning of a trend…

[ LISTEN: Talkin’ Touches podcast — breaking down Week 2 in MLS ]

Lots of changes, lots of kinks to work out

Inside the last nine months alone, Orlando City SC acquired the following who’s-who list of MLS star-level players: Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Uri Rosell. That’s one half of an uber-talented, but brand new, starting lineup (at a massive cost) — which is to say, Jason Kreis and Co., have made serious changes, and everything isn’t going to coalesce overnight.

Throw in the fact that Kljestan was suspended the first two games, Dwyer has battled multiple muscular injuries since January and is yet to make his 2018 debut, and Rosell didn’t arrive in Orlando until the week before the season opener and hasn’t played either, and you begin to understand how “such a talented team can have just one point from their first three games.”

Saturday’s 2-0 loss away to a David Villa-less New York City FC was frustrating in more ways than just “we’re still figuring things out, but we’re getting there.” Both of NYCFC’s goals resulted from self-inflicted, avoidable mistakes in possession which turned into easy counter-attacking chances going the other way.

Rosell will undoubtedly fix many of Orlando’s problems with regard to ball circulation and defensive organization/transitions, but only upon his arrival into the lineup can his tricky and important integration begin.

NYCFC, on the other hand, have three wins from three games, have conceded just once (while scoring six) and now hold a nine-point lead on the defending champions from Toronto. Oh, and did I mention they looked just fine without David Villa?

Martinez closing in on history

Just 23 games into his MLS career, Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez is one hat trick from tying the all-time record for hat tricks in a career (5 – currently held by Landon Donovan, Stern John and Diego Serna). To put that into perspective, the three aforementioned players made 340, 55 and 124 appearances during their respective MLS careers.

Assuming he doesn’t pick up another long-term injury (he missed 10 games between March and June last year) and/or transfer back to Europe in the summer, Martinez should summit the hat trick-scoring chart by early June. Given the veracity and vigor with which Atlanta engulf their opponents, Martinez scoring at least two more hat tricks this season feels like the safest bet one could make in a league full of constant flux.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which not only saw the Five Stripes fire 21 shots (4 on target – 100 percent, obviously), but more importantly hold more than 72 percent of possession and limit the visitors to just five shots in total (Kendall Waston was sent off in the 13th minute, leaving the ‘Caps a man short for much of the evening). Jeff Larentowicz has solved most of the problems in midfield and allowed Darlington Nagbe to settle in quickly and thrive. If that trend is to continue, the sky is truly the limit for Tata Martino’s boys, and Martinez will bag goals by the handful.

Where’s the real Sporting KC defense?

Should we be a little worried about the Sporting Kansas City defense, a group which finished 2017 as the league’s stingiest unit and returns its entire back-six in 2018? After conceding just 29 goals in 34 games last season, the group led by past Defender of the Year award winners Ike Opara and Matt Besler has conceded seven goals in their first three games this year.

If it were any other team, and any other group of MLS veterans, with any other coach, I’d be officially worried right now. But, given their (perennial) stake to one of the league’s best defensive records, I remain in a holding pattern, even after giving up another soft/sloppy goal in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made a fair and valid point following the game, reminding the assembled media that playing more freely going forward — a massive weakness for Sports in recent seasons — comes at the expense of defensive positioning and numbers. Sure enough, they’ve scored seven goals in three games (tied for the most in MLS – all coming in the last two). Sporting scored their seventh goal of the 2017 season on April 29.

Here’s the thing about Sporting’s recent seasons: they’ve been a lock-down side throughout the regular season and never figured out how to consistently score goals, and it cost them plenty of points along the way and ultimately they played on the road in the knockout round each of the last four seasons. That style, which they’ll surely settle back into come playoff time, doesn’t lend itself to playing on the road. Securing a home playoff game, which would the first for the team since winning MLS Cup 2013 at home, is priority no. 1, and Vermes might just be willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense for a whole lot more offense (finally).

MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 MLS Best XI

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All five Major League Soccer MVP finalists — Diego Valeri, David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron — have been named to the 2017 Best XI squad.

[ MORE: F.O.M.O., and a USMNT-less 2018 World Cup draw ]

The attacking talent doesn’t stop there, as the above quintet is joined by Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez and Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez.

Tim Melia and Ike Opara, who were previously named Goalkeeper of the Year and Defender of the Year, respectively, for their parts in leading Sporting Kansas City to the best defensive record in 2017, were chosen alongside Kendall Waston and Justin Morrow of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC, respectively.

Yes, that is indeed a rarely-seen 3-3-4 formation which very closely borders on being a 3-0-7. My personal ballot, which features a defensive midfield-type and was submitted on Oct. 22, reads as follows:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia

Defenders: Ike Opara, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Kendall Waston

Midfielders: Diego Valeri, Ignacio Piatti, Victor Vazquez, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: David Villa, Nemanja Nikolic, Josef Martinez

Reserves (not on ballot): Alex Bono, Chris Mavinga, Sacha Kljestan, C.J. Sapong