Atlanta United laid waste to the New York Red Bulls 3-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The big shutout victory was a crucial one for the Five Stripes as they completed their mission of a strong first-leg victory before heading to New York for the second. MLS’ leading goal scorer Josef Martinez kicked off the scoring spree in the 32′ minute with a quality solo effort on the keeper. Franco Escobar tallied the second with a left-footed curler and Tito Villalba finished them off when Atlanta’s third goal came in the bowels of stoppage time.

Atlanta United dominated possession in the first half (61.7%) but couldn’t turn their dominance into goals. With a limited amount of opportunities, their window finally came in the 32′. Jeff Larentowicz sent a long-ball into the box and found Josef Martinez. He chested the ball, gained his composure, and fired a rocket past Luis Robles.

Another chance came for Atlanta in the 45′ when Miguel Almirón charged into the box and let off a left-footed rocket that was parried away by Robles.

All the momentum was in Atlanta’s favor until a deflating own-goal came in the 52′ of the second half. Thankfully, after VAR review, the goal was called off.

In the 71′, Atlanta United nabbed their second goal on a counterattack. Josef Martinez passed on a low cross from Julian Gressel which allowed Franco Escobar to curl a left-footed attempt past the keeper.

An exciting 1 v 2 effort by Tito Villalba saw a cheeky move beat two Red Bull defenders. Once alone with the keeper, his low, near-post attempt ricocheted off the post. But he’d get another opportunity deep into stoppage time with another near-post attempt that buzzed past two defenders and beat the keeper to increase the Five Stripes’ lead to three.

Julian Gressel ATLUTD
Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel gets tripped up by Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles in his defensive third in Game 1 of the MLS Playoff Eastern Conference Final (Hakim Wright/TPR)

“[Where’d the goal come from?] It came from all year,” said Villalba post-game. I’ve been in and out all year with injuries so this was from all the hard work and training through the year.”

Tonight’s match was not only a big deal for the team and the fans but a big deal for the city. Atlanta United matches are still the hottest ticket in town, the night featured another 70,000+ capacity crowd, Big Boi and Waka Flocka made appearances, the fans and supporters joined forces and made a stadium-wide tifo, and the winner of this series will host the MLS Cup Final on December 8.

After the match, Martinez gave someone his kit. “It was my grandmother,” he said calmly in the locker room. “She was sitting behind the goal and I’ve never given her my jersey (kit) before.”

Pre-game, post-game, and all throughout the night, the fans will celebrate and can be happy with how their football club performed tonight. New York’s renowned and seemingly indefensible press was nonexistent tonight and Atlanta United took full advantage of that with an onslaught of crosses and counterattacks.

I’m ok with Tata’s lineup and changes with the exception of George Bello being left off the team sheet. Hopefully, we’ll see the in-form wingback get some minutes in New York.

My Man of the Match goes to Josef Martinez. His goal was the team’s first and a total confidence booster for the lads to go out and wreak havoc on the visitors.

The MLS Eastern Conference Finals continue Thursday, Nov. 29 at Red Bull Arena in New York City.


-Jon J.

Photo: Hakim Wright

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