Atlanta United had every reason to pack it in Wednesday night in San Jose.
Facing a 3-1 deficit more than 20 minutes into the second half of a match that didn’t start until 11 p.m. Eastern time and a long cross-country flight less than 72 hours before a key home match looming, the Five Stripes had all the excuses in the world to take the loss and get back on the road.
But three goals in 25 minutes of game time – including a Josef Martinez header in the fifth of six stoppage time minutes – secured a 4-3 comeback victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, and a key three points in the process.
“The mentality of the team was really strong,” Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst told AJC.com after the match. “There was no quit. We just kept going. It wasn’t our night defensively. We had a lot of mistakes, gave us some goals, but we hung in there and three points is three points.”
Adding to the gravity of the win were the rumors that have surfaced in recent days surrounding manager Tata Martino’s future in Atlanta. Just hours before Wednesday night’s match, ESPN Deportes soccer host Jorge Ramos tweeted that Martino will not continue as Atlanta’s manager, presumably because he’ll become the manager of a national team – Mexico, Colombia and Argentina are rumored to be interested – after the current MLS season.
But despite all the distractions and the huge deficit late in the match, the Five Stripes were able to steal a massive win in front of 15,948 onlookers. The win gives Atlanta a four-point cushion ahead of New York Red Bulls in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the team with the most points in MLS at the end of the regular season.
The win also guaranteed the Five Stripes will host at least one playoff match, but clearly, this team has its eyes set on something much bigger – namely, a No. 1 seed and an MLS Cup.
With five matches left to play, Atlanta United returns home for a big showdown Saturday evening against Real Salt Lake, currently the No. 5 seed in the West. Atlanta’s magic number to lock up the Supporters’ Shield and the top spot in the East is 12 points.Follow @Sean_Breslin