Atlanta United

Union blanked 3-0 as expansion Atlanta United clinches playoff spot

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USA Today Images

Union blanked 3-0 as expansion Atlanta United clinches playoff spot

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ATLANTA -- Rookie Julian Gressel had a goal and assist and expansion Atlanta United clinched a playoff spot, beating the Philadelphia Union 3-0 on Wednesday night.

Atlanta (15-8-7) is the first expansion team to make the playoffs since Seattle in 2009.

Gressel scored his fourth goal in the 27th minute and assisted on Josef Martinez's 18th in the 33rd minute. It was Gressel ninth assist, one behind the league record for first-year players. Clint Mathis had 10 for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1998.

Atlanta was without Miguel Almiron, who suffered a hamstring injury last weekend. After Martinez scored he ran back to the team sideline at midfield and grabbed Almiron's No. 10 jersey and kissed it. Almiron, who is expected to be out at least three weeks, leads the team with 13 assists and is third with nine goals.

Jacob Peterseon added his third goal in the 88th minute.

Atlanta is 10-0-2 in its last 12 home games, outscoring opponents 38-9.

Brad Guzman had three saves for his sixth shutout. Atlanta posted its fifth shutout in its last six home matches.

New England (9-13-9) is winless in its last 11 road game.

Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

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CSN

Union-Atlanta United thoughts: Facing a 'darn hard' road match

Union (9-12-9) at Atlanta United (14-8-7)
7 p.m. on TCN

While the Union may have tied the Atlanta United, 2-2, in a messy but hard-fought battle back on Aug. 26 at Talen Energy Stadium, Wednesday’s match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be a different kind of animal. 

One of the worst road teams in MLS, the Union have the unadmirable task of taking on a scorching United team of the league’s most potent home-field advantage.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

• To say the United have built a fortress at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is correct. It also might be an understatement. The expansion club, which opened the venue on Sept. 10, is 4-0-1 in its last five matches (all at home) and has stunned the league by outscoring the opposition, 19-3 while registering four shutouts in those five games. The United are 10-2-2 at home.

“That’s our task,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It’s a darn hard one.”

• Despite the challenge of facing a dominant team that is averaging over 40,000 fans per game, the masochistic Union are almost excited to absorb the punishment. Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong said last Saturday that it’s a moment to “cherish,” playing in front of a big crowd, while Curtin said players “crave” making large crowds go silent.

But that aggressive road mentality hasn’t paid off in wins for the Union. Although it has experienced back-to-back road draws, the club is a paltry 1-8-6 away from Talen Energy Stadium this season.

• In the second half Saturday, Sapong tapped in a Fafa Picault cross at the goal line for his 14th goal of the season. The score was a historic one as it tied Sebastien Le Toux for the franchise record for goals scored in a single season set in 2010. 

“He’s done everything we could have asked and more,” Curtin said. “We don’t want him to press but we want him to break that record. He’s had an exceptional season.” 

Scoring .48 goals per game, Sapong has a strong chance of claiming the title for his own in the final four matches, beginning Wednesday.

• Snapping a ridiculous goalless streak that dated back to Oct. 2, 2016, Chris Pontius buried a pair against the Fire. He needs only 10 more to tie last season’s total.

• Luckily for the Union, midfielder Miguel Almiron will miss Wednesday’s match with a hamstring injury. The pacesetter of the United offense has nine goals and 13 assists in 29 games. Also, hit in the hamstring is fullback Greg Garza, who is questionable.

Unluckily for the Union, however, Josef Martinez will play. He has 17 goals in 16 matches, including eight of those in his last five matches.

• Of the Union’s five players questionable for Wednesday, only two missing pieces could change the lineup. Oft-injured defender Josh Yaro is set to miss his third game with a knee injury and Ilsinho continues to fight Achilles tendinitis for the second game. 

If Yaro can’t go, Richie Marquez could get his third consecutive start next to Jack Elliott. While Marquez has been solid on the back line, Curtin said Saturday he thought Marquez made too many risky mistakes against the Fire, saying “there’s always room for improvement.”

• Warren Creavalle is heading home. The athletic Union midfielder was born and raised in Acworth, Georgia, about a half hour north of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

It could be an eventful homecoming for Creavalle. On Saturday, Curtin axed the No. 10 position from his lineup and played Creavalle instead as a No. 6, allowing Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya to move more freely up the field. The more defensive set could be something Curtin goes back to in Atlanta.

Josh Yaro's mistake costs Union in draw with Atlanta United

Josh Yaro's mistake costs Union in draw with Atlanta United

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CHESTER, Pa. -- Another Josh Yaro mistake, another draw for the Union.

One week after delivering an unnecessary stoppage time foul that gave the San Jose Earthquakes a game-tying penalty kick over the Union, Yaro made another crucial mistake on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

“He’s young,” captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “That’s a little bit of inexperience and a touch of luck. He’ll learn from his mistakes.”

Early in the second half of the 2-2 draw with Atlanta United, the young Union defender let Josef Martinez slip by him on a breakaway in the 52nd minute. It forced Yaro into hauling him down from behind, earning the defender a red-card ejection.

“He’s such a fast guy, strong, he didn’t need to foul him there,” veteran Haris Medunjanin said. “He knows that he’s the last guy so when you foul him you need to get the ball, otherwise you will get the red and that’s what we got.”

After a valiant defensive effort, the Union eventually cracked in stoppage time, when Atlanta’s Tyrone Mears cleaned up a clear by floating a header goal over a committed Andre Blake to lock the final score at two.

“I’m gutted for them because you don’t prepare for Tyrone Mears to score a flukey head ball from almost outside the box,” manager Jim Curtin said. “It was a strange goal and very difficult for the guys.” 

It was a brutal stretch for the Union, now 8-12-7 and three points above the Eastern Conference basement, who watched two leads slip away in the course of one week.

“Devastated for the guys in that locker room,” Curtin said. “It’s not about the playoff race, results that went our way tonight or different things like that, it’s about a group of guys, in this case 10 guys, that finished the game to close it out and win. They put so much into it.”

But despite the late tension, the Union owned the early going. Roland Alberg opened scoring for the Union in the 18th minute, when he fooled the Atlanta back line and accepted a lofted through pass from Giliano Wijnaldum. The potent Dutch scorer took the pass neatly off his chest and poked it past Brad Guzan for the 1-0 Union lead. 

It was Alberg’s sixth of the season.

Union made it 2-0 in impressive fashion in the 24th minute with Bedoya’s first of the season. From the left side, Alberg played a corner kick into the box that was deflected by Jack Elliott and in the air toward the far post. From there, Bedoya connected on an overhead kick to double the Union’s lead.

“It was good to see it go in,” Elliott said. “It was fortunate for me to get a toe in. It doesn’t always work but that one did.” 

But Atlanta would battle back just two minutes later when Martinez played a diving header to the left side for a wide open Yamil Asad to cut the Union’s lead in half, 2-1.

After one of his most impactful games of the season, Bedoya will be suspended for the Union’s next game. Just ten minutes into the contest, the captain clipped Jeff Larentowicz to earn a yellow card. It was his fifth of the season, earning the automatic suspension against Minnesota United on Sept. 9.

“It feels like crap,” Bedoya said. “It’s so frustrating. Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck your way. That’s what this game is about sometimes. Right now, we’re not getting any breaks.”