It wasn’t always pretty –– it definitely wasn’t easy –– but it was everything Atlanta United needed. The Five Stripes came to Red Bull Arena and defended their first-leg lead with a 3-1 aggregate scoreline that made them Eastern Conference champions.
Thanks to their first-leg performance, all Atlanta United had to do was end the match within three goals. So while Tata Martino lined up his squad in a more defensive position, it was the same XI that secured the commanding first leg win: Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (FWD), Miguel Almirón (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD).
Atlanta United almost had what could have been tie-clinching goal in just the first minute. A deflected pass played Josef Martinez behind the Red Bulls back line with a clean run at goal, but his scuffed effort was saved by Luis Robles in the New York net. It was a moment that nearly ended the tie, but the team put the frustration aside and stayed focused in their disciplined, defensive stance.
The directive was clear from the start –– no-nonsense defending, clear the ball out of danger when necessary, and just keep things safe. Atlanta United may have completed their lowest passing accuracy of the season, but they did have their chances. 20 minutes in, Julian Gressel had a chance that nearly took the lead in the 20th minute, but a great save from the Red Bulls goalkeeper kept him out. And that’s where the score stood at the interval after a scoreless first half.
The second half was more of the same –– heroic defending and limiting the Red Bulls to half chances all night long. It looked like the Red Bulls may have gotten one goal back with about 20 minutes remaining on the clock, but a video review ruled a clear and obvious foul on the goalkeeper on the shot, keeping Atlanta United’s aggregate lead at 3.
Tito Villalba, Ezequiel Barco and Miles Robinson all came on to bring fresh legs into the squad. While the Red Bulls did get a consolation goal in stoppage time, the final score ended up a comfortable 3-1 aggregate score, making the Five Stripes Eastern Conference Champions in just their second season.
The result means Atlanta United will host the MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next weekend against the Western Conference Champions. Tickets are already on sale –– and they’ll certainly go fast –– so make sure you’ve reserved your spot here.