Alexandru Mitrita recorded a hat trick over a 21-minute span of the first half, and Eastern Conference-leading New York City FC extended their unbeaten streak to nine games with a 4-1 win over visiting Atlanta United FC on Wednesday night.
Mitrita scored in the 14th, 23rd and 34th minutes for New York City (17-5-10, 61 points), which can officially clinch a first-place finish in the East if Philadelphia loses or draws at San Jose later Wednesday night.
NYCFC star Heber, in action for the first time since injuring his groin versus Vancouver on Aug. 31, scored his 15th goal in the 87th minute.
New York City is 7-0-2 since an 2-1 loss at Atlanta on Aug. 11.
Atlanta United (17-12-3, 54 points) has also secured a playoff berth and entered the day second in the East. However, minus injured star Josef Martinez (26 goals), who is day-to-day with knee and ankle pain, Atlanta managed only Pity Martinez's successful penalty kick in the 53rd minute.
The night, though, belonged to Romanian forward Mitrita, who has 12 goals in his first MLS season. All it took was some nifty footwork for the opening goal, as Mitrita dribbled his way to the top center of the box and curled the ball past United goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
It didn't take long for Mitrita to strike again in the 23rd minute. He took a long ball from Maxi Moralez, just behind Atlanta's back end, and moved along the top of the box before drilling one past Guzan.
Mitrita completed his hat trick in easy fashion on 34 minutes, tapping home a rebound of a diving Guzan save. NYCFC had a chance to go up 4-0, but Moralez sent a penalty shot just left of the goal in the 43rd minute.
Atlanta, which looked lethargic throughout the first half, showed life right out of the break. After NYCFC's Maxime Chanot fouled Brandon Vazquez in the box, Pity Martinez struck his penalty attempt into the left corner to make it 3-1.