Seattle Sounders 1-1 Atlanta United: Josef Martinez penalty salvages valuable draw on the road

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Atlanta United salvaged a 1-1 draw on the road to the Seattle Sounders on Sunday evening.

The Five Stripes fell behind to an early Raul Ruidiaz and despite dominating possession for large spells, they often struggled to break down the Sounders defense.

But Gabriel Heinze’s side were offered a lifeline when Brad Smith hacked down Brooks Lennon in the 18-yard box in the final 10 minutes. Josef Martinez sent Stefan Cleveland the wrong way to level the scores.

Here are three things learned about Atlanta United from Sunday’s match.

1. Possession problems

While Atlanta supporters can celebrate becoming just the second side to take points from the Sounders this season, Sunday’s game largely proved to be a tough watch.

Yes, the Five Stripes dominated possession for large stretches. But as we’ve often seen throughout this season so far, they lacked penetration, moving the ball between the center-backs and lacking the vision and confidence to play risky passes in the final third.

Of course, it doesn’t help when the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm are missing. The pace and movement of that duo give Atlanta the ability to go over the top, while also stretching the opposition with width to create gaps. And for all his promise last season Marcelino Moreno looks terrified of using his left foot, making him incredibly one-dimensional and predictable out on the left.

But this has been a running theme for Heinze so far regardless of his line-up. A problem that needs solving if Atlanta are to be regarded as true contenders.

2. A solid platform

If we’re going to criticize Atlanta’s lack of ideas in the final third, it’s only right we praise their defensive efforts. Sure, the defending for Ruidiaz’s early goal left a lot to be desired but the Five Stripes recovered well from there.

Always busy, Franco Ibarra made a match-high six tackles, while Anton Walkes and Santiago Sosa made four each. And as a team, Atlanta held a good defensive shape, limiting Seattle to low-percentage shots and speculative efforts from distance.

As any avid follower of Pep Guardiola sides over the years will know, possession is the best form of defense. The opposition can’t hurt you if they don’t have the ball and Atlanta understand this aspect of the game brilliantly.

Heinze has built a solid platform. As mentioned, he just needs to work out the equation at the other end of the pitch and the Five Stripes will be rolling.

3. Another goal for Josef Martinez as recovery continues

If Atlanta are to sort their final-third issues, getting Josef Martinez firing on a regular basis is obviously going to play a huge role.

The Venezuelan is showing good signs on his road to recovery from a long-running ACL injury. Martinez has started dropping between the lines to connect Atlanta’s possession sequences. He’s also starting contesting tough aerial duels, rediscovering the giant leap that has helped him score so many remarkable headers over the years.

And after scoring in clinical, vintage style against Inter Miami recently, Martinez once again found the net here to double his tally early on in the season. Sure, it was taken from the spot, but Martinez fired it right into the top corner and out of reach of Stefan Cleveland, even if the Sounders goalkeeper had gone the right way. It’s also important to remember this was the first penalty Martinez had taken since the 2019 Eastern Conference final against Toronto FC, where the striker missed as the Five Stripes fell to a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat.

It feels like Martinez is confident enough where you just have to get the ball to him and he’ll do the rest.