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Nothing but winners in Atlanta United’s emphatic first leg victory

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One small step for man. One giant leap for Atlanta United.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United may have begun to stitch the wounds left when they missed out on the Supporters’ Shield.

Atlanta steamrolled their way to a 3-0 first leg win at home on Sunday, putting themselves in a fine position for Thursday’s second leg against the New York Red Bulls (it’s actually in New Jersey). With such a brilliant performance, it’s hard to pick out individual winners, but we’ll try our best.

Winners

Franco Escobar

The fullback had his best game in an Atlanta jersey on Sunday, earning man of the match honors and a spot in the hearts of Five Stripes fans everywhere. His tireless running up and down the right flank helped the home side in every phase of the pitch, especially in the final third.

Escobar grabbed Atlanta’s second goal of the game, rifling home a cutback from Julian Gressel in emphatic fashion, before assisting Tito Villalba late in the second half for Atlanta’s third goal of the afternoon. It was an all-around performance from Escobar and one that showed how important he can be as an attacking wingback.

Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Gonzalez-Pirez is the leader of this team going forward. While he may not wear the captain’s armband, he leads by example week in, week out. On Sunday, the Argentine helped Atlanta build from the back and was a stalwart in defense. His passing accuracy was solid on the day, but what stood out were his defensive efforts. Seven interceptions and five clearances in an intense playoff game is nothing short of excellent.

Jeff Larentowicz

The MLS legend desperately wants to lift that MLS Cup and if you don’t believe me, re-watch his performance from Sunday. The 35-year old provided a beautiful cross for Josef Martinez to open the scoring, but looked comfortable in a three-man backline.

While he has had some shaky performances over the course of the season, Larentowicz looked at his very best at New York.

Losers

Me

I am dubbing myself a loser for missing the game on Sunday. Watching a recording didn’t feel the same, but seeing the result was like an early Christmas present. I’ve watched enough Atlanta sports to know that this isn’t over, but it’s one hell of a step in the right direction.

P.S. This is the only time I will ever end up on the losers list, I promise.