A forlorn Alexander Callens walks off the field after NYCFC’s defeat. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — Behind yet another record-breaking performance from Josef Martinez, Atlanta United defeated New York City FC 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday.

The loss left NYCFC (10-5-8, 38 points) in third place in the Eastern Conference prior to the fourth-place Red Bulls playing at LAFC Sunday night while United (13-9-3, 42) moved atop the division.

United also ran its home unbeaten streak to 11.

“If we want to be a top team, we have to play better,” NYCFC captain Alex Ring said. “It is that simple. I think, in the first 50-60 minutes we lacked basic things, most of all courage. You can’t win games if you don’t play with your heart, with courage. There is a lot to think about after this game.”

Opposing teams have figured out NYCFC’s style of play. The visitors used long balls in the first half and it didn’t work. They finally resorted to the short passing game that has been so successful for the squad.

“Teams catch up on it and start playing man-to-man,” Ring said. “We just have to find solutions because at the moment, we are having problems with that. Now, we have a week until Cincinnati, and we will probably work on it in training.”

City head coach Dome Torrent agreed.

“It was very fast because we made mistakes in the first half,” he said. “I said to my players in the second half, ‘If you play every single ball long ball – forget about it. It’s impossible to play.’ In the build-up, we play 100 percent. I’ve said many times, ‘Look what happened, play long ball, recover the ball, we defend deep.

Martinez’s opening goal in the 42nd minute marked the 10th consecutive MLS match in which he scored, breaking his own record of nine the year prior. He also added another in the second half, reaching 20 goals in 2019 and 70 career regular season goals, which surpassed the most for any MLS player in a three-year span.

Miles Robinson appeared to put the hosts ahead in the 33rd minute when he smashed home a corner kick from Pity Martinez. But after video review, the call was reversed citing a foul committed by Robinson prior to the goal.

But less than 10 minutes later, Josef Martinez broke the scoreless tie and two MLS records. Julian Gressel and Pity Martinez combined along the right wing before Julian Gressel sent a cross to the far post, where Josef Martinez rose above center back Maxime Chanot and headed the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Torrent was impressed with Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel’s play on the right wing

“They start to play great in the first minutes,” he said. “They could’ve scored three goals in that way. I said to [defender Ronald] Matarrita, ‘You have to be truly close to him, because we practice that.’ One player goes above the crosses, and four players focus in the crosses. Because, they are playing that way, and we knew that. I accept sometimes, you play here, it’s not easy.”

The coach wasn’t finished.

“I say many times, maybe the people don’t believe me, ‘If you play long balls, if you play faster, how fast the ball goes the faster the ball comes back,’ ” Torrent said. “That’s the reason why I wanted to take control, and you have to take risks – absolutely, and you can make mistakes. I make mistakes every single day, and they can make mistakes. But they have to take the ball and pass the ball and play short, because we played the last two months that way.”

Martinez finished his brace from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute. Pity Martinez earned the penalty, as he attempted to dribble past defender James Sands, but the young defender got caught in and took Martinez down. Josef Martinez hammered the ensuing PK through a diving Johnson, who had correctly guessed to his right.

Heber pulled one back for NYCFC in the 81st minute. Maxi Moralez crossed into the box where Valentin Castellanos played the ball down with his left leg and left it for an on-rushing Heber. Heber lined up his right-footed shot into the left corner.