ATLANTA — Atlanta United advanced to the 2018 Major League Soccer Cup after beating New York Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Championship. New York edged Atlanta 1-0 in Leg Two on Thursday night, but the three-goal deficit proved to be insurmountable for the Red Bulls. As the club with the most points from the regular season remaining in the playoffs, Atlanta will host Portland Timbers in the Cup Final which will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Despite the 1-0 loss, Atlanta put together one of its best defensive performances of the season as the team recorded 57 clearances with center backs Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez leading the way with 16 and 14 each, respectively.
Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez nearly iced the series inside of 20 seconds after the opening kick-off. Jeff Larentowicz played a long ball into the attacking half where Darlington Nagbe took a heavy touch and Tyler Adams attempted to gather the loose ball. After a challenge from Nagbe flicked the ball into the path of Martinez, the Venezuelan sprinted behind New York’s backline and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Luis Robles. Martinez attempted a left-footed shot to the bottom left corner, but Robles was able to parry it away from danger.
Atlanta absorbed pressure throughout the first half but picked its moments to get forward and nearly took the lead again in the 21st minute. After a tackle from Greg Garza, Julian Gressel gathered the ball, took a touch toward goal and fired a shot from 30 yards out which forced Robles into action again with a diving effort to his right. Both sides entered the half scoreless with Atlanta registering a first-half season-high 27 clearances.
New York continued to pressure Atlanta’s defense and thought to have scored in the 80th minute, but video review took it off the board. Off a corner, Brad Guzan punched the ball straight up then jumped to catch his own clearance. Defender Aaron Long headed the ball out of Guzan’s gloves and into the back of the net. Initially ruled a goal, referee Jair Marrufo overturned the call, citing a foul on Long following video review.
The Red Bulls eventually scored deep in stoppage time through Tim Parker from a corner.