November 26, 2018 / 7:07 AM / a year ago

Soccer: Atlanta close in on MLS Cup place after win over Red Bulls

Nov 25, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) heads the ball against New York Red Bulls defender Connor Lade (5) during the second half of the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Atlanta United have one foot in the Major League Soccer (MLS) championship match after beating New York Red Bulls 3-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final on Sunday.

In the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City battled to a 0-0 draw in their opening leg.

Josef Martinez, who set an MLS record with 31 regular season goals, put Atlanta ahead in the 32nd minute before second-half goals from Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba gave them a comfortable lead to take to New York for Thursday’s return leg.

The Red Bulls had a goal by Bradley Wright-Phillips disallowed early in the second half after a video review determined Alex Muyl was offside.

The Red Bulls or United will host the MLS Cup on Dec. 8 as both teams had more points in the regular season than the two Western Conference semi-finalists. The Timbers, looking to reach the Cup final for the second time in four years, were disappointed not to take advantage of their home ground on Sunday but were confident of getting a result in Kansas City.

“Definitely we wanted to get a win at home, but also they didn’t get any goals,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese told the Oregonian.

“Now, we have to go there, make sure that we prepare with the days that we have and give everything we have to try to go through.”

Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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