Josef Martinez and Franco Escobar scored on either side of halftime, and Hector Villalba added a third in second-half-stoppage time, as the Five Stripes grabbed a well-earned 3-0 victory in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The win gives Atlanta a strong advantage heading into the second leg of the series against the Supporters' Shield winners, which is set to take place at Red Bull Arena on Thursday.
After a closely-fought opening spell, Atlanta started to come into the game more as space opened up and were rewarded just after the half-hour mark. Jeff Larentowicz took advantage of the space afforded to him on the right to swing in a booming cross to the far post, which Martinez controlled with his chest and fired past Luis Robles.
The Red Bulls thought they had an equalizer from a well-worked set piece just after the restart, but after Video Review, referee Kevin Stott waved off Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal after determining that Alex Muyl had screened goalkeeper Brad Guzan while in an offside position.
Wright-Phillips' disallowed goal would loom large in the 71st minute when Atlanta grabbed their second. Miguel Almiron found Julian Gressel streaking down the left side, and though Gressel's cutback rolled behind Martinez, it went to Escobar to slam home past Robles.
Villalba, a second-half substitute, hit the post in the final minute of second-half stoppage time, but would not be denied five minutes later when he slammed an unstoppable low finish from outside the box into the corner.
- 32' – ATL – Josef Martinez | Watch
- 71' – ATL – Franco Escobar | Watch
- 90+5' – ATL – Hector Villalba | Watch
- THE BIG PICTURE: Atlanta will obviously be delighted with where things stand in the series. Not only do they have a three-goal aggregate advantage, they prevented the Red Bulls from bagging an away goal. That means the Red Bulls must either win 3-0 and try their luck in extra time/penalties, or win by four or more to claim the series win in 90 minutes. A one- or two-goal Red Bulls win – or a three-goal Red Bulls win in which Atlanta score – would put the Five Stripes through to MLS Cup.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: All the goals were important, but it's hard to look past the disallowed BWP goal as a pivotal moment not just in the game, but in the series. Instead of giving the Red Bulls a crucial away goal and leveling the game at 1-1, it set the stage for Atlanta to build up a near-insurmountable advantage heading into Leg 2.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Jeff Larentowicz's steady work on both sides of the ball earns him the honors here. We all new he was a no-nonsense defender and a capable organizer in the back, but how about that cross to Josef for the opening goal? A complete game from the veteran mid.
- Leg 2: New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United FC, Thursday Nov. 29 (7:30 pm ET | FS1; TSN2, TVAS2)