After building a 3-0 lead in the opening leg of their Eastern Conference final clash, it would have taken a monumental collapse for Atlanta United to miss out on a chance to host MLS Cup. That collapse never came as the second-year club cruised past the New York Red Bulls to win the series.
Atlanta was able to effectively kill the series all through Thursday's second leg, holding the Red Bulls attack virtually silent in a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena. Even with the loss, Atlanta goes on to host MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium while the Red Bulls miss out on a chance to host in a season where the club won its third Supporters' Shield in six seasons.
From the onset, it was apparent that it was a matter of going through the motions for Atlanta United, who went ahead 3-0 in last week's opening leg on goals from Josef Martinez, Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba.
Martinez had a chance to all but seal the series in the game's opening seconds, but the Venezuelan international scuffed his shot 18 seconds in after a deflection put him through on goal.
WHAT A SAVE!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 30, 2018
Josef Martinez with the golden chance just 10 seconds in but Luis Robles keeps the Red Bulls alive. pic.twitter.com/JQpBep2S0Z
It never got much better for the Red Bulls, who were outshot in the first half before throwing more numbers forward in the second. Brad Guzan was relatively untested in the Atlanta goal, stopping four shots on the day with none requiring anything spectacular.
The apparent bright spot came late in the second half with the Red Bulls pushing for a goal as Aaron Long collided with Guzan, knocking the ball into the back of the net. The incident was initially ruled as a goal but, following Video Assistant Review, the finish was waved off, restoring the scoreline at no goals apiece.
With just seconds remaining in the match, the Red Bulls broke the deadlock on a goal from Tim Parker, but it was too little too late as the Red Bulls were eliminated via a 3-1 aggregate scoreline.
Atlanta will now take on the Portland Timbers, who went to Kansas City and erased an early deficit to emerge with a 3-2 win and a spot in MLS Cup.
The decisive moments were provided by Sebastian Blanco, who scored a thunderous long-range stunner to tie the game at one apiece, giving the Timbers the advantage on away goals following a 0-0 first leg draw.
Blanco then popped up to help create the Timbers' second, which was punched in by Diego Valeri on a close-range header, all but ending Sporting KC's hopes of advancing to the MLS Cup final.
Sporting KC originally opened the scoring in the 20th minute with Daniel Salloi firing the hosts into the lead on a sloppy defensive sequence from the Timbers.
However, the club's Argentinian stars picked up the slack in the second half, although the final 10 minutes proved nervy after Sporting KC pulled one back through Gerso Fernandes to put the hosts within a goal of advancing.
Valeri then iced the match, scoring in the 10th minute of stoppage time to seal the win as the Timbers advanced to the team's second MLS Cup in four years.