Atlanta finally scores, Martinez brace beats Nashville 2-0

ATLANTA (AP) — Finally, a goal.

Finally, a win.

It had been a while since Atlanta United celebrated either.

Pity Martinez scored two goals as Atlanta broke a scoreless drought of more than five months and the longest losing streak in franchise history with a 2-0 victory over Nashville SC on Saturday night.

Playing in empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which looked downright eerie considering the team has set numerous Major League Soccer attendance records, United (3-3-0) earned a much-needed win in its first game under interim coach Stephen Glass.

“It’s a good feeling to win a game,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who made five saves for his first shutout of the season. “We’re a club that’s used to winning games. We haven’t had that feeling for quite some time.”

Atlanta, the 2018 MLS Cup champion, snapped a three-game MLS losing streak and a four-game skid across all competitions, beating expansion Nashville (1-3-1) for its first win since a 2-1 triumph over Cincinnati on March 7.

“Maybe people will start talking again about how good Atlanta United is and not how they haven’t scored in three or four games,” Glass said. “It’s up to us to make sure that happens.”

In the 40th minute, Eric Remedi delivered a towering, pinpoint pass that covered roughly half the field and hit Martinez in stride, allowing him to shake off a defender and sprint down the left wing. Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman came over to challenge just inside the area, but Martinez sent him right on by with a nifty cut to the inside, leaving a clear look at goal from about 8 yards away.

Martinez beat Joe Willis with a left-footed flick, ending a 435-minute scoring drought for United, playing its first game in more than a month to begin the second phase of MLS’ reopening.

Martinez completed the brace with his second goal in the 87th, ripping a shot from 18 yards away that beat Willis in the upper left corner.

It was the first multi-goal league game of Martinez’s two-year MLS career, a stint that has failed to live up to expectations since Atlanta acquired the former South American player of the year.

“You saw a different image of the team, a different attitude,” he said. “We’re a team that wants to win.”

In Atlanta’s most recent win before Saturday, more than 69,000 fans turned out for the team’s MLS home opener. Of course, the world has changed greatly since that match, and so has United.

Four days later, Atlanta was routed 3-0 in the CONCACAF Champions League by Mexican powerhouse Club América — the last match before a four-month shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The league finally returned to the field with the MLS Is Back tournament near Orlando. Atlanta United turned in a dismal performance, losing three straight games by 1-0 scores.

Shortly after returning to Atlanta, the team parted ways with second-year coach Frank de Boer. Glass, who had been coaching Atlanta United 2 in the USL Championship, was promoted to the head job while the front office searches for a permanent replacement.

Hoping to shake up a team that looked all of sync after three wildly successful seasons, Glass vowed to the instill a more offensive-minded approach. United finally found the back of the net, though the only cheers came from taped fan noise piped into the massive stadium.

Atlanta United will not have any fans at home at least through the end of September, a huge blow for a franchise that averaged more than 52,000 fans per game in league play last season.

“We missed our fans tremendously,” Guzan said. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before were able to have them back cheering us on in person.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com

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