Atlanta United took an overwhelming advantage in the MLS Eastern Conference Championship on Sunday, beating the New York Red Bulls 3-0 at home in the first leg of the series.

Atlanta United New York
Atlanta United took a commanding 3-0 lead after the first game of their home-and-home Eastern Conference Championship series with the New York Red Bulls. (Image: Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

The victory puts Atlanta in dominant position before the second leg in Red Bull Arena on Thursday, as the Five Stripes not only have a three-goal lead on aggregate, but New York is also without an away goal, making the situation even more dire for the Red Bulls.

Disallowed Goal Creates Deep Hole for New York

Atlanta took the lead with a goal in the 32nd minute by Josef Martinez for the only score of the first half. The Red Bulls appeared to have equalized the match at the start of the second half, but an apparent goal by Bradley Wright-Phillips was disallowed after video review determined that Alex Muyl had impacted the play from an offside position.

Atlanta United then expanded its lead in the 71st minute when Franco Escobar knocked in a pass from Julian Gressel. Already in excellent shape, Atlanta then took a commanding lead in the two-leg series when Hector Villalba slotted a pass from Escobar into the corner from outside the box five minutes into stoppage time, giving his team a 3-0 advantage.

With a goal and an assist in the victory, Escobar proved to be the difference maker that Atlanta wanted when they signed him away from Argentinian club Newells Old Boys in the offseason.

This is the player we wanted to sign for our team, the Franco weve seen in the last five or six games, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Hes able to get forward, hes versatile. Hes a physical player, and hes scored two goals now in the last six or seven games for us that have been very important.

Tactical Gamble Doesnt Pay for Red Bulls

The match saw a surprising change in tactics from New York. All season long, the Red Bulls had played a high press in an effort to force turnovers and create scoring changes, a strategy that earned them the Supporters Shield in the regular season. But New York chose to sit back and defend on Sunday, a tactical decision that obviously didnt pay off. That may have happened because Atlanta saw the move coming, even if nobody else did.

We thought it was possible, given how they played against us the last time they were here and how they played against Columbus away last round, United defender Michael Parkhurst told reporters.

The Red Bulls will now have to win by four goals at home to win the series, while a 3-0 victory would force extra time and a potential penalty shootout. Oddsmakers believe that New York is a favorite at home on Thursday, with the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posting the Red Bulls as a -120 favorite in the match over Atlanta (+310). However, winning by a wide enough margin to go through to the MLS Cup will be a much tougher task.

The winner will play the Western Conference champion on Dec. 8. The first leg of that series ended in a 0-0 draw between the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City, with Kansas City set to host the second leg on Thursday.