Atlanta United defeated New York City FC 3-1 (4-1 on aggregate) Sunday night to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. In front of an MLS Cup Playoff record of 70,526 fans, Josef Martinez scored twice and Miguel Almirón curled in a free kick to lead Atlanta to victory. It will now play New York Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 25 in Leg One of the Eastern Conference Finals; Leg Two will be Thursday, Nov. 29 at Red Bull Arena. Official kickoff time and broadcast information for both matches will be announced at a later time.
Martinez opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 25′. Franco Escobar drew the foul near the end line after he charged into the box, but his feet were cleared out by New York’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi before he had the opportunity to cross. Martinez stepped up to the spot and made a cheeky move before slotting it home.
Atlanta doubled the lead in the 42′ from an Almirón free kick. Placed directly in the center of the pitch from about 25 yards out, Almirón took a beautiful free-kick, curling the ball around the wall to beat Sean Johnson.
However, NYCFC immediately answered just before halftime in the 45′ minute from Maxime Chanot. David Villa stepped up for a free kick from the left wing, but his attempt was initially redirected – after it seemed destined for the near post – off of Julian Gressel, who was on the far right of a three-man wall. The ball floated right to Chanot who was able to head it into an empty net.
Clinging to a two-goal aggregate lead in the second half, Atlanta put the series away in the 83′ as Martinez finished off his brace. Eric Remedi perfectly chipped a pass through the NYCFC defense for Martinez, who played the ball down with his chest, waited for a pair of bounces off the turf, then rifled a shot with his right foot past Johnson.
Shots on Target: 4-4
Corner kicks: 3-2 NYCFC
Fouls committed: 20-16 NYCFC
Saves: 3-1 Atlanta
Clearances: 21-11 Atlanta
Offside: 3-0 NYCFC
Possession: 69-31 NYCFC
Passing Accuracy: 84- NYCFC
Tonight’s match marks the first playoff series victory in the club’s short history, a major feat for such a young club.
“Obviously, it (the win) was very important in terms of what we’re trying to do here as a club,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan after the match. “We said earlier that nothing is promised or automatically given to you, you have to earn everything.”
My Man of the Match goes to Josef Martinez. The Golden Boot winner had been on a goal slump the last seven matches but, he proved tonight why he’s a threat and MLS record holder.
Photo: Hakim Wright