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D.C. United dispatched by Josef Martinez, Atlanta United

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Wayne Rooney’s first start was not enough as a Martinez hat trick sent United to a 3-1 defeat

D.C. United showed us they can beat up on one of MLS’s run-of-the-mill clubs last week, but in Wayne Rooney’s first start, Atlanta United showed them how much work they have left to do in a 3-1 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Zoltan Stieber’s 4th goal of the season gave the Black-and-Red an early lead, but Josef Martinez — who controversially avoided suspension after a headbutt last week — took over, posting a hat trick with goals in the 30th, 53rd, and 73rd minutes.

Ben Olsen made just one change to the team that defeated Vancouver in Audi Field’s first-ever game, and it was a big one. Wayne Rooney stepped in up front for his first MLS start, replacing D.C.’s co-leading scorer Darren Mattocks. In the end, Rooney played 66 minutes.

Both teams showed a willingness to press, but Atlanta carved out the first good look. Highly touted Atlanta midfielder Andrew Carleton got to the endline to chip the ball back across goal, finding Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez. Martinez was wide open, but nodded his header over the bar, much to David Ousted’s relief.

United finally got out of an extended spell of Atlanta pressure, and a perfect counter-attack opened the scoring. In the 8th minute, D.C. broke forward and found themselves working with even numbers and plenty of options. Stieber, left in plenty of space on the right side of Atlanta’s box, fired calmly past a helpless Brad Guzan to give the Black-and-Red a 1-0 lead.

Atlanta held much of the possession but struggled to do much with it for quite a while, but eventually they started to threaten. First in the 28th minute, Almiron’s chip over the defense saw Martinez slash between Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum, giving himself a one-on-one with Ousted. However, the big Dane came off his line superbly, giving Martinez no room to pick out a corner, and the Venezuela international’s shot was stuffed.

Martinez got the better of Ousted just a minute later, though. This time, after a turnover at midfield from Rooney, Hector Villalba got into some space on the right side of the box. With time to pick his target, Villalba served in a teasing cross that Martinez beat Ousted to, nodding in a 30th minute equalizer. United appealed for a foul, but replays clearly showed that Martinez simply won the race to the ball.

United finally managed a long spell of possession in the 41st minute, and after knocking the ball around confidently for a solid minute, they created a great chance. Oniel Fisher’s overlap on the right allowed him to cross behind the defense and into the six yard box, where Michael Parkhurst lunged in to beat Rooney to the service. The deflection was going in, only for Guzan to flash a hand up at the last moment. The ball fell right to Luciano Acosta, who volleyed on frame only for Guzan to somehow block the near-post shot with his shoulder.

The game carried on in a similar manner to start the half, and Martinez scored his 22nd goal of the season in the 53rd minute. An Atlanta short corner ended with a cross coming in from Carleton. Brillant got above everyone to win the initial header, but the ball only glanced off the top of his head and on to the back post, where Martinez simply had to steer the ball home with a header of his own from four yards.

United responded to the goal with some more potent attacking play, though by the 65th minute all they truly had to show for it was an Acosta volley at the back post that went into the outside netting.

Atlanta remained a threat on the break, and sure enough Martinez made it a hat trick in the 73rd minute. A surge forward from Almiron caught D.C. with numbers forward, and just as United converged on the ball, the Paraguayan pushed the ball forward to Martinez. Stuck with no defensive help, Birnbaum went to ground to poke the ball away, but Martinez managed to deflect it forward. Given some good fortune, Martinez made no mistake from there, rounding Ousted before rolling the ball over the line. The goal set a new MLS record for hat tricks by a single player.

From there, United’s attempts to pass their way through a massed Five Stripes defense largely broke down at the edge of the box, while the home side continued to look dangerous on the counter. Ousted produced a fine double save in the 86th minute, while Almiron blazed one over the bar in stoppage time after United was caught with just three men back.

United will have to shake the loss off quickly, as they’ll be back in action Wednesday night at Audi Field. This time, they’ll be hosting the New York Red Bulls, their hated arch-rival.

Highlights will be added when they are made available.