Atlanta, GA - Josef Martinez, Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba scored as Atlanta United cruised to a 3-0 victory over the visiting New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their Eastern Conference final on Sunday.
Martinez scored in the 32nd minute, Escobar in the 71st minute and Villalba in the fifth minute of second-half stoppage time before a crowd of 70,016 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
In between the first two tallies, the Red Bulls had an important away goal wiped off the board in the 53rd minute when video review determined that Alex Muyl was in an offside position in front of Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan before a Bradley Wright-Phillips shot.
Guzan made a save on Brian White in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time before Villalba scored a minute later from 22 yards with Escobar getting and the assist.
The match featured the top teams in MLS with Red Bulls’ 71 points, two more than Atlanta’s total, setting an MLS record.
New York had to deal with the loss of defender Kemar Lawrence, who sustained a knee injury in training. He was replaced by Connor Lade.
Martinez, whose 31 goals in the regular season were four more than the previous best single-season total in MLS history, was at it again to give Atlanta United the lead.
Jeff Larentowicz found no pressure as he dribbled into the final third on the right channel. He sent a cross into the box over New York defender Tim Parker to Martinez, who settled the ball off his chest before unleashing a shot.
Atlanta scored on the counterattack for the second goal with Julian Gressel setting up Escobar for the finish past goalkeeper Luis Robles.
The winner of this series will host MLS Cup on Dec. 8 against the Western Conference champ, either Sporting Kansas City or the Portland Timbers.