ATLANTA — Atlanta United FC entered the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a one-goal advantage. Against New York City FC on Sunday, the Five Stripes could’ve parked the bus. They could’ve sat back and played conservatively. The could’ve played for a draw and advanced on the aggregate.
But that’s not the style of manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino. That’s not the mindset of this club. That’s not the attitude of this team.
Atlanta United attacked early and often. Two goals off set pieces in the first half gave the Five Stripes extra cushion in their lead and they cruised to a 3-1 win (4-1 on aggregate) against NYCFC to advance to the conference finals of the Major League Soccer Cup playoffs. An announced MLS postseason record crowd of 70,526 poured into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the club’s first home playoff victory.
Atlanta gained an advantage in the 24th minute, when Darlington Nagbe fed a pass to Franco Escobar that sent the Argentine defender into NYCFC’s area. But Ismael Tajouri-Shradi challenged Escobar with a sloppy slide that brought the Atlanta defender down into the box. Referee Mark Geiger signaled for a penalty kick and Josef Martinez eagerly jogged up to the spot.
As he has done many times this season, Martinez began his penalty kick attempt in signature fashion, by hopping to his left, shuffling his feet, charging the ball, then hopping again before planting his left foot and delivering a strike with his right. NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson dove right and Martinez slotted home a hard, low roller in the left side of the net. It was the ninth successful penalty kick of the season for Martinez, the MLS Golden Boot winner.