For more than an hour, the New England Revolution stymied Atlanta United in their Round One Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, more than holding their own in the midfield battle and limiting star striker Josef Martinez to just two shots, neither on target.
Then Franco Escobar happened.
Just as the possibility of extra time began to loom over the packed MBS crowd, Atlanta's Argentinean right back ranged forward in the 70th minute to latch onto a lovely throughball from Ezequiel Barco and lash a vicious finish into Revs goalkeeper Matt Turner's top near corner, a worthy match-winner from an unexpected source.
Perhaps it shouldn't be, though: It's Escobar's third goal in six postseason matches, including the capper in ATLUTD's MLS Cup triumph at the same venue back in December. The defender has scored just twice in 47 regular-season appearances for the Five Stripes.
The narrow win and nervy performance belies Atlanta's status as defending champs and No. 2 seeds in the Eastern Conference bracket, but they advance nonetheless and will host the winner of Sunday's Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls match in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday.
- 70' – ATL – Franco Escobar | WATCH
$2,000 was contributed to the Audi Goals Drive Progress fund
- THE BIG PICTURE: This was a case of "survive and advance" for ATLUTD, and they only need three more of those to hoist MLS Cup again; but the eye test suggests that they're a vulnerable title holder. The Revs were surprisingly daring in venturing high up the pitch, girded by a stout defensive performance from Andrew Farrell, and the Five Stripes were unable or unwilling to punish them for it.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Not much competition with Escobar's golazo...
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Winning 7/9 duels, making 5 tackles and passing at an 89.7% accuracy rate in addition to his winner, Franco Escobar gets the nod.
- ATL: Thursday, Oct. 24 vs. TBD (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada) | Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, Conference Semifinals
- NE: End of season