For a moment, it appeared Atlanta was truly snake-bitten against the New York Red Bulls. After a dominant first half found them 1-0 up, it appeared Bradley Wright-Phillips had grabbed an away goal soon after the break and given New York life. VAR wiped off the goal, and the hosts went on to a deserved 3-0 victory.
The decision – a correct one by the letter of the law – was surely an enormous moment in this two-legged matchup, and paved the way for a 3-0 Atlanta victory that left Tata Martino with 90 minutes between he and a spot in the MLS playoff final.
Martinez struck just past the half-hour mark, as Tim Parker midjudged a ball into the box from Jeff Larentowicz, and as it floated over the head of the New York defender, it fell to Martinez who settled and finished calmly. Atlanta held over 60% possession in the first half, and held New York to just one shot, with Bradley Wright-Phillips neutralized.
After the break, New York proved far more threatening, and they looked to have drawn level. In the 54th minute, a free-kick flew into the box and eventually came to Wright-Phillips at the top of the box. BWP fired low and to the left, past a helpless Brad Guzan and into the back of the net. After a long delay, VAR ruled out the goal, and while it took some time deducing the reason for the call, it became clear that Alex Muyl was in an offside position and screening Guzan. While the Atlanta goalkeeper likely would not have reached the shot regardless of Muyl’s positioning, the rule was clear and the call was correct.
New York began to slowly work down the possessional advantage for the home side, but struggled to create more big chances. Midfield giveaways proved deadly, and Atlanta used a turnover to move two goals in front. Miguel Almiron threaded in a streaking Julian Gressel who came flying down the left flank, and his cutback across the space in the box was just behind Martinez but came to Franco Escobar who unleashed a howitzer into the top-right corner.
The hosts came close to a third on multiple occasions. Almiron fired across the face of goal wide on a breakaway with nine minutes remaining. Robles also had to make a near-post save in the 87th minute to deny substitute Hector Villalba. Then, the best chance just fell short as Villalba hit the post after toasting two defenders on the break. Finally, the third came in added time as Escobar fed a great through-ball to Villalba who struck with his left foot and slid it inside the left post.
It’s the first victory for Atlanta United in five tries all-time against New York, and a huge one as New York will need a massive comeback to find a way into the MLS final. The second leg will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET.