To earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in team history, Atlanta United need gutsy defense, precision passing and a ruthless finishing streak. They got all three in another historic night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday, overpowering New York City FC to move on to the Conference finale.
The pre-match news was the absence of Jeff Larentowicz in the lineup , forced to the sideline for this match with injury. In his place came Miles Robinson, stepping up in a massive match in a starting role. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (DEF), Michael Parkhurst (DEF), Miles Robinson (DEF), Franco Escobar (DEF), Eric Remedi (MID), Greg Garza (MID), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Miguel Almirón (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Julian Gressel (FWD).
The message was clear right away: Atlanta United was not going to just sit back and absorb pressure to protect their lead. The Five Stripes jumped on the attack from the opening whistle, piling on pressure on the NYCFC goal. The pressure broke through the defense in just the 25th minute, and it came from the Golden Boot winner himself. Atlanta United broke through the back line, with Darlington Nagbe playing an inch-perfect pass to Franco Escobar down the right side of the penalty box. He pulled it back on the byline, but NYCYFC’s defender was already sliding in, and the ref pointed to the spot –– with Josef Martinez as clinical as ever to take the lead.
Atlanta United kept the pressure on, and turned their momentum into a second goal minutes before halftime. Miguel Almirón ran rampant through the center of the park like he was doing all night, and NYCFC had to tackle him from behind to prevent him from splitting the defense again. But Miggy showed how unstoppable he was on the night by stepping up to the ensuing free kick and slamming an unstoppable finish inside the top corner and in.
NYCFC made it interesting just before halftime, heading in a goal from a deflected free kick –– and it gave them confidence that they could get a result as they tried to take over control of the game. But Atlanta United stuck to their game plan, and stayed threatening on the counter attack despite the pressure from an NYCFC team with their backs against the wall. After several chances to put it away, it was Eric Remedi and Josef Martinez who teamed up to put the final nail in the coffin. The Argentine drove forward into space in midfield and sent a beautiful lobbed pass to Josef Martinez, who took one touch off his chest and slammed home the third of the night.
70,526 fans decked out in red, black and gold pushed the Five Stripes on for the final ten minutes, and Atlanta United cruised to the final whistle with a 4-1 final aggregate score. Stay tuned for ticket information as we wait to learn our next playoff foe.