By Michael Lewis
ATLANTA — Atlanta United wasn’t the only winner last night.
The Red Bulls also had reasons to celebrate as they clinched a berth in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League even though they did not have to play.
They did so because United defeated the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup, 2-0, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Since United already had secured a berth by having the most points over the past two season, they gave up that slot to the team with the next highest amount of points — the Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls will meet Club Atletico Pantoja (Dominica) in the first round.
The opening leg of the first round is set for Feb. 19-21, while the second leg is scheduled for Feb. 26-28.
When the recent two-year qualifying cycle kicked off, the four berths for the United States and one for Canada were allocated as follows:
2018 Canadian Championship winner (Toronto FC)
2017: Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner (Sporting Kansas City)
2017: MLS Cup winner (Atlanta United)
2018: Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner (Houston Dynamo)
2018: MLS Cup winner (Red Bulls)
Because Toronto won the 2017 MLS Cup and a Canadian club couldn’t qualify by winning that championship, the berth was awarded to the team that finished with the best combined points totals in 2017 and 2018. That wound up being United (124). Since Atlanta secured the MLS crown having already secured a spot in competition, their place went to the team with the next best points total from the past two seasons — the Red Bulls (121).