One of the criticisms of Tata Martino at Atlanta United is that his teams are too focused on playing “beautiful” soccer than they are at gutting out results when they need to.
That was put to rest on Sunday night during Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Eric Remedi’s first professional goal in the first half stood up as Atlanta weathered New York City FC to win 1-0 and return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a huge away goal in its favor. It was just NYCFC’s second loss at Yankee Stadium all year long.
It looked as if the Five Stripes found the scoreboard in the 20th minute. Miguel Almiron’s awkward shot during a corner kick sequence somehow got behind Sean Johnson and into the back of the net. However, it wasn’t to be. After a video review, it was ruled that Almiron was offside just seconds prior and the goal came off the board.
In the 37th minute, and again off a corner sequence, Atlanta United found the net again from a very unlikely source. Josef Martinez’s strike was stopped by Sean Johnson, but Remedi was there to knock home the loose ball for his first-ever goal - and this one would not be wiped out.
Atlanta had a couple of chances to add a second goal, but none was bigger than the one late in the second half. Martinez set off on a run and got past Maxime Chanot, but Chanot was able to track back and take the ball away. Martinez recovered it and found Greg Garza at the top of the area, but his shot was tipped over the bar by Johnson in what would have given NYCFC a much larger hill to climb.
The match was a chippy affair as 39 fouls were whistled, 21 for Atlanta. Five yellow cards were shown, with three Atlanta players finding the book (Martinez, Tito Villalba, Eric Remedi). They’ll need to be careful because a second one means a suspension for the next match.
Nonetheless, the Five Stripes showed its resilience once more as they shook off a loss at Toronto FC to end the regular season and gained its first-ever playoff victory. They now head back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Sunday - time to be determined - hoping to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.