Cucho Hernandez scored twice as Columbus Crew defeated Atlanta United 2-0 in the opening game of their best-of-three MLS Eastern Conference playoff series on Wednesday.
Colombian international forward Hernandez took his tally for the season to 18 goals in all competitions in a dominant performance at Crew’s Lower.com Field.
The win leaves third seeds Columbus in the driving seat to reach the Eastern Conference semi-finals of Major League Soccer’s post-season bracket, AFP reports.
Columbus can seal their spot in the last four with victory in game two of the series in Atlanta next week.
On Wednesday’s performance, Columbus will head into next Tuesday’s return fixture confident of progressing after dominating an Atlanta team badly missing suspended Argentine World Cup-winner Thiago Almada.
Crew star and former Watford forward Hernandez gave sixth-seeded Atlanta’s defense a torrid time throughout, before breaking the deadlock in first-half stoppage time.
A swift counter-attack saw Hernandez pick up the ball just inside Atlanta’s half, leaving the 24-year-old bearing down on goal.
The Colombian shrugged off a feeble challenge by Atlanta defender Ronald Hernandez before unleashing a ferocious shot that flew past goalkeeper Brad Guzan at the near post into the roof of the net.
Columbus were then gifted a penalty on 51 minutes after a rash challenge from Ronald Hernandez sent Romanian winger Alexandru Matan tumbling over in the box.
Cucho Hernandez stepped up and made no mistake with a clinical penalty that made it 2-0 to Columbus.
Hernandez almost completed his hat trick deep into stoppage time at the end of the second half, but Guzan saved his firmly struck shot at the near post.