Franco Escobar

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Champions! Atlanta United win MLS Cup in second season

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Atlanta United didn’t need all that long to earn the right to call themselves the champions of MLS, realizing the two-year-long dream of Arthur Blank and Gerardo “Tata” Martino with a 2-0 victory in the 2018 MLS Cup final on Saturday.

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2018 MLS MVP — and single-season goals king (31) — Josef Martinez put his prints everywhere as the Venezuelan bagged a goal and an assist in front of an MLS-record crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Atlanta enjoyed plenty of possession — more than 56 percent in the first half — but the Timbers midfield and defense did an admirable job to funnel everything from Atlanta out wide once in the final third. From there, Liam Ridgewell and Larrys Mabiala could comfortably head cross after cross away from danger.

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All of the pressing, harrying and chasing finally paid off for Atlanta in the 39th minute, when center back Michael Parkhurst pushed higher and higher up the field and tackled the ball away from Jeremy Ebobisse. Martinez was lurking atop the penalty area — narrowly onside — and knew exactly what to do with the ball when it fell to him.

Brad Guzan was called into action for the first time not long after Martinez’s goal, diving to his right to deny a goal-bound header from Ebobisse.

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Atlanta doubled their lead in the 54th minute, courtesy of a cool finish from Franco Escobar at the back post. Miguel Almiron floated his free kick into the box and Martinez flicked it as the first red shirt in the box. Jorge Villafaña was a full yard behind everyone else in white, keeping Escobar onside, but there was still plenty to be done from there.

After just two seasons in MLS, Martino, who coached his final game in Atlanta on Saturday, has secured his place as one of the league’s great influencers — both in terms of the global interest and respect he commanded, and the tactical daredevil mindset he displayed.

The entire organization in Atlanta has raised the bar in MLS — both in terms of on-field product and the numerous financial investments made by the organization — making Saturday’s finale a thoroughly fitting result.

Atlanta 3-0 New York: Hosts decisive after VAR denies BWP

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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.

Atlanta United signs Argentine defender Escobar

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Atlanta United’s Argentine contingent continues to grow.

The club announced Friday morning it had signed promising centerback Franco Escobar on a transfer from Newell’s Old Boys. The 22-year-old has become a regular starter for Newell’s in the Argentine Primera in the last 12 months and has become such a mainstay that Atlanta United reportedly paid a $1 million transfer fee.

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Escobar’s connection to Atlanta United is surely though manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, a fellow Argentine who formerly played and coached at Newell’s and still has contacts with the team.

“Franco is a physical and versatile defender, capable of playing anywhere along the back line,” Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement. “He’s a young player who has already featured often in the Argentina Primera Division and he brings a level of toughness that will suit MLS and benefit our club immediately.”

With Michael Parkhurst getting on in years and Bobby Boswell and Zach Loyd departed, Escobar fills a need along the backline for Atlanta United, and should there be an injury to Leandro Gonzalez Pires or Parkhurst, Escobar should be able to step in and perform at a high level.