Tired legs from a heavy schedule and west-coast trip may have left the Montreal Impact easy prey for Atlanta United scoring machine Josef Martinez.
The quick-legged Venezuelan forward scored his 23rd and 24th goals of the season as MLS-leading Atlanta defeated the Impact 2-1 in a rain-delayed match on Saturday night.
Martinez pounced on a rebound to score in the 31st minute and got another on a tap-in in the 57th as Atlanta (14-4-5) stretched its unbeaten run to four games.
With 11 games left in the regular season, Martinez is only three short of the MLS record of 27 goals in a season shared by three players.
"Obviously he's a very good player," said Montreal fullback Michael Petrasso. "Him and [Miguel] Almiron, you can see a lot of their attack goes through them.
"You see how fast he is and how he can switch it on right away from nothing. We focused on them. They're two of the best players in the league. It was tough in this game. You can see the chances they created and the goals they scored from came from barely nothing. They get a goal and then we're on the back foot."
Ignacio Piatti scored for Montreal (9-13-1), which was eliminated from the Canadian Championship with a 2-0 semifinal loss in Vancouver on Wednesday night in what turned out to be a disappointing week. They also learned on Thursday that a deal to bring in French striker Jimmy Briand had fallen through.
Impact done with tough stretch
The Atlanta game ended a gruelling run of seven games in 22 days in which the Impact went 2-2-1 in league play and 1-1 in the Canadian Championship.
Coach Remi Garde, who served a one-game suspension and was replaced on the sideline by goalkeeping coach Joel Bats, said the heavy schedule left his team short of energy and preparation to face a talented opponent like Atlanta. They look forward to having a full week to get ready for a visit from D.C. United next week.
"It's been hard for us, but I think that we played a good game in Portland [a 2-2 draw last week] and we won a lot of games at home," said striker Matteo Mancosu. "Now we have time to recover a bit and keep up this quality of play."
Montreal had most of the ball in the opening half, but Atlanta had the better chances off counterattacks, with Martinez heading wide on the rebound of a Julian Gressel shot in the 17th minute and Evan Bush stopping an Almiron blast in the 28th.
Hector Villalba won a race for a ball down the right flank and crossed a ball in front that defender Rudy Camacho just missed before a leaping Martinez headed it under the crossbar in the 31st minute.
The 75-minute rain delay, which started during the intermission, was announced as a thunder shower passed over Saputo Stadium, soaking the field as fans sought shelter under the grandstands.
When play resumed, players were sliding around on the slick grass and Atlanta took advantage on another counter when, after some ping-pong in the Montreal 18-yard box, Jukka Raitala stopped a shot on the goal line, only to see Martinez steal the ball and tap it over the line in the 57th minute.
It was the Venezuelan's fifth goal in his last two outings, having set an MLS record with a sixth career hat-trick last week against D.C. United. Martinez was subbed off in the 83rd minute.
Montreal had pressure around the Atlanta box throughout the match, and began to penetrate the defence for quality chances to the delight of the 19,064 fans. In the 87th, Alejandro Silva charged into the area and slipped a pass to Piatti on the left side for a blast under the crossbar for his 11th goal of the season.
ESPN stats reported that Martinez is second in MLS history for goals in a player's first two seasons with 43, one short of the record 44 scored by Stern John of Columbus in 1998 and 1999. Martinez passed David Villa of New York City, who had 41 in his first two seasons.
Atlanta was without rookie star Ezequiel Barco, who was suspended two games by management for breaking a team rule. He will return Wednesday at the MLS all-star game against Juventus in Atlanta.
Piatti will represent the Impact.
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