ATLANTA (AP) — Josef Martinez scored on a penalty kick in the 65h minute after being stopped on his first attempt, and Atlanta United gave Major League Soccer rare bragging rights over Liga MX by beating Club América 3-2 for the Campeones Cup on Wednesday night.
The matchup between the reigning MLS Cup champions and the Liga MX powerhouse that won the Campeón de Campeones last month was an entertaining, back-and-forth match before 40,128 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, split nearly evenly between red-clad United fans and yellow-wearing América supporters.
Atlanta United grabbed an early lead, América surged ahead early in the second half, but the home team pulled off a comeback of its own to add another trophy to its case.
This one felt especially good for MLS, which has struggled to make inroads against North America’s dominant soccer country. Liga MX teams have won all 11 CONCACAF Champions League titles, and Tigres UANL beat Toronto FC 3-1 in the inaugural Campeones Cup last year.
Martinez was stymied by goalkeeper Oscar Jiménez on a penalty late in the first half, keeping the score tied 1-1 at the break. America went ahead for the first time on Roger Martinez’s goal off a corner in the 56th, but United tied the game just 3 minutes later on Jeff Larenowitz’s laser strike from about 30 yards out that appeared to deflect off an América defender in front of the net, leaving a flat-footed Jiménez with no chance.
Not long after, United notched the winner. It was set up by a sloppy tackle from Guido Rodriguez, who slid into defender Florentin Pogba — who wasn’t even facing the goal — for a takedown just inside the area. Referee Joel Aguilar quickly pointed to the spot, where Martinez blasted a shot past the keeper into the top left corner.
Martinez, the reigning MLS MVP and in the midst of a record streak of 10 straight league games with a goal, tried to get cute with his first penalty attempt. He approached the ball with a soaring stutter-step before hitting a softer shot that Jiménez batted away with a diving save.
In the end, that miscue was forgotten. América finished with only 10 players after Bruno Valdés was sent off in the 72nd for shoving down Martinez as he was sprinting toward the Mexican team’s goal.
When the whistle sounded, the United players celebrated furiously in the middle of the field, thrilled to claim the second trophy in their three-year existence. They’ll have a chance at another prize in less than two weeks when they host Minnesota United in the final of the U.S. Open Cup.