Atlanta United held a distinct advantage coming into Sunday's Eastern Conference Semifinals second leg against New York City FC after an away goal in the opener. And thanks to two first-half goals from their stars, they booked their place into the Conference Championship for the first time in club history.
Darlington Nagbe played a throughball to a streaking Franco Escobar, who got forward from his right wingback position, halfway through the first half and the Argentine cutback along the endline. NYCFC winger Ismael Tajouri-Shradi made a risky decision to go to ground and paid for it as he caught Escobar with his tackle in the box. Josef Martinez finished his penalty kick past Sean Johnson to register his first MLS Cup Playoffs goal.
Miguel Almiron followed that up with a stunning free kick in the 42nd minute after blowing by Yangel Herrera in the midfield and forcing the Venezuelan to pick up a yellow card. Maxime Chanot gave the Cityzens some life just before halftime, finishing a deflected David Villa free kick into an open net.
Martinez provided the capper in the 83rd minute as Valentin Castellanos kept him onside as his teammates were playing an offside trap. Eric Remedi played a ball over the top as the Golden Boot winner was 1v1 with Johnson and he thrashed in his second goal of the match.
- 25' — ATL — Josef Martinez (PK) | WATCH
- 42' — ATL — Miguel Almiron | WATCH
- 45' — NYC — Maxime Chanot | WATCH
- 83' — ATL — Josef Martinez
- THE BIG PICTURE: The Five Stripes have righted the ship after a disastrous end to the regular season and have two weeks to get fully healthy as they await one of two nemeses. The Cityzens will rue another season in which they bow out of it in the Conference Semifinals, especially after their strong start to the season.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It didn't put any goals on the scoreboard, but Almiron turned Chanot in the 6th minute and was about to burn him down the sideline into the open field. The center back decided to foul the Paraguyan and pick up a yellow card, which set the tone for how Almiron was going to dominate the rest of the match.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Almiron's speed put pressure on NYCFC's defense the entire match, forcing two players into yellows and making others look silly in moments. That speed allowed ATL UTD to play on the counter effectively throughout the match.
- ATL: Sunday, Nov. 25 — Eastern Conference Championship vs. New York Red Bulls
- NYC: End of season.