ATLANTA (AP) Amid a stretch of six games in 18 days, Atlanta United manager Tata Martino stressed the importance of managing minutes.
”It’s always important to try and give your guys as many minutes off as possible when you have so many games coming up,” Martino said through a translator. ”Today was difficult, though.”
The result drew a smile from the first-year MLS coach.
Miguel Almiron scored the go-ahead goal amid a bevy of defenders in the 67th minute and expansion Atlanta beat the Columbus Crew 3-1 on Saturday night.
Josef Martinez scored in the 88th to put the away the game that was delayed 22 minutes because of lightning.
Both teams had scoring opportunities early. Atlanta (6-6-3) struck first in the 16th minute. Yamil Asad poked the ball loose pressuring the Columbus back line and fed an open Hector Villalba, who put away the open look.
Columbus midfielder Federico Higuain tied it in 26th when Ola Kamara received a cross into the box and dropped it to an open Huguain to put away. From there, Atlanta’s defense tightened.
”We definitely had to be aggressive against a team that plays the best football in this league,” Atlanta defender Greg Garza said.
Martinez scored his first goal since March 18. The forward came off the bench in the 63rd minute as the club works him back from an injury. Martinez scored five minutes in the first four games of the season before suffering a left quad injury that kept him out until last weekend.
Almiron’s goal came four minutes after Martinez entered the game.
”It’s all good news regarding Josef,” Martino said. ”He was able to play the full game on Wednesday and scored. He was able to come in tonight and score. It was a welcome return, because we are a better team when we have our goal scorer.”
Villalba was replaced after 73 minutes and Almiron subbed out at the 77th, after scoring. Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz played the entire game, to Martino’s dismay.
Atlanta has won three straight at home.
”What else can you ask for?” Atlanta defender Greg Garza said. ”Completely full stadium, everybody chanting ”A-T-L” the whole time. Can’t ask for much more.”
Columbus (7-9-1) lost to an expansion team for the third time ever.
”We have work to do,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. ”I would like to see us to get back to our game and who we are as a team. We are an attacking team, we are an aggressive team, we create a lot of chances, we are smart players, we are good on the ball and I just didn’t see that enough tonight.”
Atlanta drew within one point of Columbus and slide into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. It could become one of the few teams in league history to reach the playoffs in its inaugural year. The Crew, in fifth, have lost five of their last six games – each loss coming on the road.