- Cucho Hernández (45'+1', 51' Pen)
Hernandez made it 1-0 in minute 45+1 of the first half and doubled the lead with a penalty kick in the 51st for the third seeded Crew over No. 6 seed Atlanta.
Game 2 is in Atlanta on Tuesday with a third game, if necessary, in Columbus on Nov. 12.
The Crew is 10-0-3 in their past 13 home games.
Hernandez, coming off a 16-goal regular season, roofed a shot past Brad Guzan for the Crew's 37th goal in the first half this season, the most in MLS, to the delight of the sellout crowd of 20,176 that braved a 38-degree kickoff.
Aidan Morris won the ball in his own final third and sent a pass to midfield for Diego Rossi, who spotted Hernandez down the left flank. He outraced two defenders and fired a left-footed shot from a tight angle.
The Crew led in shots, 9-0, in the first half and had three on target with the first two, Darlington Nagbe in the 19th and Alex Matan in the 32nd, comfortable stops for Guzan. He made five saves.
Atlanta's hopes for a fast start to the second half evaporated when defender Ronald Hernandez stepped on the foot of Matan in the box. Hernandez then improved to 6 for 6 from the spot this season.
He has 12 goals in the past nine matches.
Atlanta was without Thiago Almada, a finalist for the MLS MVP and Young Player of the Year awards with 11 goals and 19 assists, after he received a red card in the regular-season finale against FC Cincinnati.
- Lukasz Szpala