Atlanta United advanced to Major League Soccer’s championship match in just its second season, losing to the New York Red Bulls 1-0 on Thursday night on a goal in second-half stoppage time but winning the two-match Eastern Conference final by a 3-1 aggregate score.
Atlanta will host Portland in the MLS Cup on Dec. 8, a chance for the city’s second professional sports title and first since the Braves won the 1995 World Series
New York, one of the league’s original teams, had the best regular-season record for the third time in six seasons but remained without an MLS title. The Red Bulls have reached the conference final five times but advanced for the only time in 2008, when they lost the MLS Cup match to Columbus.
Tim Parker scored the game’s only goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time after a poor clearance by Brad Guzan following a corner kick.
With the temperature around 40 and an announced crowd of 22,137 on the late autumn night, Atlanta played with five men back and often 10 behind the ball in a classic “park the bus” defensive strategy. When Atlanta players fell to the ground following challenges, they often remained down for lengthy periods as time ran off the clock. MLS scoring champion Josef Martinez, Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba had goals at home in the first leg on Sunday.
Timbers 3, at Sporting Kansas City 2
Timbers advance on 3-2 aggregate
Diego Valeri scored a pair of goals, including one in stoppage time, and Portland beat Sporting Kansas City to advance to MLS Cup for the second time in four years.
Sebastian Blanco also scored in the second half for Portland, which didn’t even need Valeri’s clinching goal. The teams had played to a scoreless draw Sunday in Portland in the first leg of their aggregate-goal Western Conference final, and with road goals being the tiebreaker, the Timbers were assured of playing for a championship even when the score was 2-2.
Valeri’s stoppage goal merely allowed the Timbers to begin celebrating a few minutes early. Daniel Salloi scored in the first half and Gerso Fernandes scored in the 81st minute for Sporting KC.
Blanco’s strike in the 52nd minute was followed by Valeri’s header off a rebound moments later, a goal that not only silenced the crowd at Children’s Mercy Park but led to a rather bizarre scene.
Fans in one corner of the stadium began throwing bottles and other trash at Portland players, and referee Mark Geiger brought both teams to the sideline. Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes then stalked more than halfway across the field to admonish his own club’s fans.