That was the only change but made sense because Robinson, Atlanta United’s first-ever draft pick, may be the most physically gifted centerback Atlanta United has, a combination of speed and athleticism, though lacking experience. Martino said Robinson was one of the team’s best players on Sunday.
Atlanta United didn’t change defensive tactics that worked in the first game. One player consistently marked striker David Villa. Another, usually Eric Remedi and sometimes Robinson, marked midfielder Maxi Moralez. Neither influenced the result. Moralez had just one shot on goal, Villa had none for the second consecutive game.
“The idea was to stay as close as I could to him the whole game and not let him turn and face the goal,” Remedi said.
Atlanta United also didn’t sit back and try to preserve its 1-0 lead. As it has done most of the season, it attacked, so well that Martino said it showed the best aspects of his team: they possessed the ball in NYCFC’s half and got two of its goals.
The strategy paid off in the 25th minute when Franco Escobar sent into space with a great pass by Darlington Nagbe. Onto the ball, Escobar was taken down by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the penalty box. Martinez converted the penalty to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the game, and 2-0 aggregate lead in the series. It was Martinez’s 32nd goal this season.
Almiron gave Atlanta United a 2-0 lead in the 42nd minute with a 25-yard free kick from the center of the pitch into the upper left corner. Almiron earned the free kick after being taken down from behind by Yangel Herrera. It was the second goal scored by Atlanta United on a set piece in the series. It was Almiron’s 13th goal this season and first on a free kick.
Almiron said he and Martinez discussed doing a 1-2 pass on the free kick before he decided to take the shot. He said he wasn’t sure it was going in.
“This one was a miracle,” he said.
NYCFC showed life with a goal in the 45th minute on a free kick. The kick was the result of a foul by Escobar, who also received a yellow card. The goal was scored by Maxime Chanot, who was being marked by Escobar but beat him to the back post to head the free kick past goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
NYCFC kept up the pressure to start the second half. Guzan was forced to make another save when Moralez, who is 5-foot-3, escaped Remedi and cut in front of Robinson for a header.
Guzan dove down to his right to stop a shot by Valentin Castellanos in the 56th minute.
Martino described those opening minutes of the second half the worst form of the team’s night.
Atlanta United started to break through the gaps in NYCFC’s formation as it poured players forward for the second goal. Almiron put a shot high and wide. Nagbe put a shot over the goal. Almiron was then beaten by Johnson, who came off his line, in a one-on-one chance in the 66th minute.
Martinez capped the scoring in the 83rd minute with a right-footed shot into the upper right corner. Remedi was credited with the assist.
“This is very important for us, but we have to keep our feet on the ground because we haven’t won anything yet,” Almiron said. “We are going to enjoy this and then keep working hard for what’s coming.”