The Josef Martinez goal-scoring show looks to continue rolling on as the Venezuela international looks to extend his staggering streak to 16 matches Saturday as reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United host the San Jose Earthquakes.
Atlanta (16-11-3) made full use of its match in hand on Eastern Conference frontrunners New York City FC and Philadelphia on Wednesday night, recording a 2-0 victory at MLS newcomer FC Cincinnati to draw within six and three points, respectively, of the two clubs.
Martinez scored both goals in the second half for the Five Stripes, working a 1-2 on the counter with Pity Martinez to perfection in the 59th minute to open the scoring and then turning on the class for his second six minutes later, poking a pass from Julian Gressel ahead of himself and cutting inside two defenders before lacing a 15-yard, left-footed shot inside the left post.
"I think the most important thing is that we are playing concentrated and we showed in the last five minutes of the first half that we were creating some small chances," Atlanta coach Frank de Boer said post-match. "And I said, just be patient. After half an hour, they are going to be tired and we get our chances.
"Of course it is always nice to have a player like Josef (Martinez), who can make a difference. But still, it is always difficult when you play an organized team. They played against Montreal. They get a good result out of it and we get a good result, because I think we didn't lose our patience."
The Venezuelan striker has been extending his own MLS record for four matches running, and Wednesday's double moved him level for second globally with Norway's Tor Henning Hamre, who had a 15-game run with Estonian side Flora Tallinn in 2003. The only player with a longer run is Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, who scored in 21 consecutive contests bridging 2013-14.
Josef Martinez, who also set the MLS single-season mark for goals last year with 31, moved into a tie with Zlatan Ibrahimovic for second with 26 this year, two behind Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela.
Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan notched his 14th shutout and sixth clean sheet in 10 matches. The Five Stripes are looking to avoid back-to-back league losses at home for just the second time in their three-year history and have scored in 51 of 53 matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
San Jose (13-12-5) has a tenuous hold on sixth place in the Western Conference with 44 points, ahead of FC Dallas on the wins tiebreaker but only one point better than eighth-place Portland with four matches remaining. The Earthquakes are looking to salvage something from a three-match road swing and coming off a 2-1 loss at NYCFC last weekend.
Chris Wondolowski staked San Jose to a lead in the 20th minute as he furthered his MLS all-time leading goal-scoring haul to 158, but the Quakes conceded twice in a three-minute span late in the first half, spoiling the return of coach Matias Almeyda following a three-match touchline ban for on-field misconduct in San Jose's 4-0 loss to LAFC on Aug. 21.
It was San Jose's fifth consecutive road defeat after taking 13 points from the previous five road matches (4-0-1), and Wondolowski knows the 'Quakes must find a way to collect points down the stretch to avoid missing the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
"We need to get back to square one, remind us where we've been successful," the striker said. "He (Martinez) is a dangerous player, he always finds chances and it's going to be very tough marking him. The key is cutting off his supply, the crosses and the guys trying to feed him."
Atlanta has won a pair of high-scoring encounters with San Jose, including a 4-3 road win last year as Josef Martinez had a second-half brace bracketing the go-ahead goal by Miguel Almiron in the 73rd minute.