Atlanta United finally broke their New York Red Bulls hex to grab a 3-0 advantage in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship with a first leg victory in front of their home fans on Sunday night.
The hosts owned play from the start, and went ahead through striker Josef Martinez near halftime. After thanking their lucky stars that the Red Bulls had a Bradley Wright-Phillips leveler waved away by the offside flag, Atlanta tacked on a late pair of goals to put one foot in MLS Cup.
Brad Guzan (6.5) - The US international wasn't pressed into many goalkeeping duties, making one easy save in stoppage time. He did distribute well, though, especially in the first half.
Franco Escobar (8) - The Five Stripes right back repeatedly pushed forward to take threatening positions in the first half, but could have done more damage with his final third play. That wasn't the case after the break, as he coolly finished off a fine Atlanta move for their second goal and picked up the assist on their third by freeing Tito Villalba.
Michael Parkhurst (7) - The Atlanta captain covered plenty of ground to stop numerous Red Bulls advances cold. Parkhurst also played a handful of helpful passes out of the back.
Jeff Larentowicz (7.5) - The veteran put an inch-perfect cross on a platter for Martinez to net the opener. Larentowicz was also as solid as could be at the back, including standing in the way of a goalbound Tyler Adams shot when the game was still tight late.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (7.5) - The stylish defender impressively piled up 20 stops, with several coming when he pushed into midfield. To boot, he played several freeing outlets and switches to both flanks. The man known as "LGP" also drew a yellow card, but one could argue it was a shrewd foul.
Greg Garza (5) - The left back got forward early, but wasn't able to make much of it. Garza was also easily the least effective Atlanta defender on the night.
Eric Remedi (7) - It was a strong overall outing from the Argentine, who was probably the victors' unsung hero. When he wasn't stepping in to reclaim the ball, he was playing sneaky slip passes to put teammates in good attack positions.
Darlington Nagbe (7) - Time and again, the US midfielder was a one-man pressure valve. Nagbe repeatedly worked out of crowds to earn the home side some space on the ball.
Julian Gressel (6.5) - After what amounted to a darned near invisible opening frame, Gressel got far more busy after the break. He released teammates on some counters and eventually made a smart fast break run of his own to notch a drag-back assist.
Miguel Almiron (7) - He never really grabbed the game by the throat, but did constantly make the Red Bull defense account for his threat. Almiron finally pulled off the big play he was after by keying their second goal with a defense-splitting pass before the pass.
Josef Martinez (7.5) - After barely seeing the ball during the opening half hour, the Golden Boot winner then put his side up to stay with a brilliant goal. I'm not sure which was better, the elegant chest collection to get free or the brief patient pause before his shot. Martinez also pitched in with some nice hold up touches.
Coach "Tata" Martino (7.5) - It's not so much that the boss authored a diabolical game plan. He trusted his midfielders to control the middle (they did) and his attackers to take their chances (they did). Perhaps most importantly, Martino got his boys to take it to what had been a bugaboo opponent.
Tito Villalba (7.5) - After wiggling through two defenders only to strike the post, Villalba was moaning to the the heavens. One would imagine it was an entirely different conversation following his second great chance, as the late sub spectacularly picked the low corner to put his side comfortably in the series' driver seat.
Chris McCann (6) - No mistakes from the left back sub.
Ezequiel Barco (6.5) - The late participant helped his team break pressure and killed some clock on the dribble.
New York Red Bulls
Luis Robles (6.5) - He might wish for another crack at the Martinez opener, but honestly, it would be harsh to fault Robles on any of the goals. The goalkeeper did pull off a strong tackle to squash one excellent Atlanta chance, and added a couple of good saves.
Michael Murillo (5.5) - For the most part, the Red Bulls right back was decent on the night. Murillo supported what possession the visitors had and made some solid stops. His most notable demerit came when Almiron's throughball cut him out of Atlanta's second goal.
Tim Parker (2.5) - Parker made a couple of strong interventions, but they were overshadowed by mistakes on and off the ball. He misjudged the cross on Atlanta's first, chose the wrong lane on their second and was caught out on their capper.
Aaron Long (5) - It was a tale of two game states for the MLS Defender of the Year. Long's passing out of the back was often abysmal, but he also put out a ton of fires. That is, until getting away with allowing Villalba to ghost through him for a capper.
Connor Lade (3) - The substitute left back had a rough night. Lade barely offered anything going forward and was repeatedly beaten off the dribble. On Atlanta's second goal, he wandered too close to goal, leaving the cut back lane wide open for Escobar.
Tyler Adams (4.5) - The coach's tactical choice really pulled the teeth out of Adams' game to a prominent extent. He made some good defensive plays around the Red Bulls area, but failed to cause a single turnover at or beyond the midfield stripe. To make matters worse, the youngster committed several stress-inducing turnovers.
Sean Davis (3) - The 25-year-old was never able to find the game. He constantly misplayed passes up the middle and rarely stopped the home side from running up the gut.
Kaku (4) - The Red Bulls playmaker couldn't get anything going in the first half, but improved slightly after halftime. It wasn't nearly enough, though.
Daniel Royer (4) - While he did make a couple of nice defensive plays in the first half, Royer offered next to nothing in attack. Some of that could be chalked up to his being asked to sit so deep, but not all of it.
Alex Muyl (3) - Muyl did less defensively than his bookend, and nothing came from a couple of bursts into the final third. His biggest guilty charge, however, was filed when he wiped out a would-be equalizer by standing offside.
Bradley Wright-Phillips (5) - If you don't count his nullified strike from a set-piece knockdown, BWP was entirely starved for service. He did try to help by springing his wingers with some outlet passes.
Coach Chris Armas (2) - The Red Bulls have owned the Five Stripes by playing in a particular structure, and it was baffling to see that blueprint largely discarded. Armas' gambit kinda worked for 30 minutes, but then Atlanta broke the ice. The away coach never truly adjusted his plan, either on the drawing board or with subs, and that's why the Supporters' Shield winners head home facing a very difficult mission.
Derrick Etienne Jr. (4.5) - The speedster tried to ask some questions of the Atlanta defense, but none of them were particularly testing. And on the third goal, he lost a challenge on the eventual crosser and it was fatal.
Marc Rzatkowski (-) - A mere cameo.
Brian White (5) - One could saw the same thing about White, if not for the fact that he fired meekly on a pretty good chance to grab a late away goal.