MLS

Union pick up first point of season, tie Atlanta United

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Union pick up first point of season, tie Atlanta United

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ATLANTA — Ezequiel Barco came on in the 67th minute and scored three minutes later to help Atlanta United tie the Philadelphia Union 1-1 on Sunday night.

Defending champion Atlanta used a series of quick passes to move to ball from the left to the right side where Julian Gressel first-timed a high entry and Barco side-netted a header inside the far post.

Brenden Aaronson, an 18-year-old homegrown making his MLS debut, ripped a right-footer that, as it went through the legs of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, deflected off the defender's leg past goalkeeper Brad Guzan to give Philadelphia the lead in the 47th minute.

Atlanta had 71.4-percent possession — finishing with 669 passes compared to just 267 by the Union — but came up empty on a handful of chances. Josef Martinez, who set an MLS record with 31 goals last season, missed wide left on a shot early in the second half and later had his bicycle shot stopped by goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Union lose at NYFC in regular season finale with playoff seeding on line

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Union lose at NYFC in regular season finale with playoff seeding on line

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NEW YORK — David Villa scored his 14th goal of the season and New York City FC beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Sunday to clinch the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

NYCFC (16-10-8) won for just the second time in its last 10 matches, with five loses, averaging just 0.9 goals per game. Philadelphia (15-14-5) has lost five of its nine matches against NYCFC.

Either team could have secured the top-three seed with a victory.

NYCFC had a 2-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes on Maxime Chanot's first goal of the season and Auston Trusty's own goal. Villa made it 3-1 in the 34th.

Cory Burke pulled Philadelphia within 2-1 in the 14th. C.J. Sapong was fouled inside the penalty area in the 59th, but NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson denied Fafa Picault's penalty shot, diving to his right to block the low attempt.

Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

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Playoff-clinching Union pass on celebration because 'they're not satisfied'

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CHESTER, Pa. — Celebratory beers sat mostly untouched in the Union locker room.

Following a 5-1 playoff-clinching win over Minnesota United on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium (see observations), the players had reason to celebrate. Instead, they were jovial but subdued. With two matches remaining and first-round home-field advantage in play, the reason was made clear. 

“They’re not satisfied,” said Union manager Jim Curtin, whose club can finish as high as third in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. “We have a very humble and hungry locker room.”

It’s just the third time the Union have clinched a playoff berth, and nearly a decade since they did so with confidence. Curtin’s club limped into the postseason in 2016 riding a bevy of losses, only to be dismantled by Toronto FC when it got there. 

“We had just backed in, we weren’t in good form going into that game against Toronto,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. “This feels a lot better.”

It also feels different. 

“You learn the most about your group in the hard moments,” said Curtin, who transformed his struggling club into an Eastern Conference player. “Not only did they pass, but they did so with style.”

With the win on Saturday, the Union, who already demolished a franchise record with 15 wins, surpassed the 2011 team for the franchise-high point total with 50. But what seemed like a true departure from past Union teams, is with a chance to take the easy road with a victory against a non-playoff team at home — they took it with authority. 

“I’ve been here for a while, I’ve seen it all,” Union goalkeeper Andre Blake said. “I’ve seen this team grow a lot. We’ve learned to close games out, we’ve learned to dominate when we need to. Tough times can make you or break you and it’s been making us.” 

Led by Fafa Picault’s two, the Union scored four first-half goals and toyed with Minnesota throughout. At times it felt more like an early-round U.S. Open Cup match than a late-season MLS tilt. Credit goes to the Union for living up to the moment and seizing opportunity. 

“We don’t suck,” Picault said. “We’re doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been through the hard times together and the good ones. It’s important we continue to do that. We’re not going to get overly confident and overhype the situation.”

The Union are now staring down New York City FC at the No. 3 spot in the East. With the win on Saturday, the Union jumped over the Columbus Crew (48 points) to claim the fourth spot. The Union face NYCFC on the road in the season finale. 

“We want to climb the table as high as we can,” Picault said. “We’re trying to get third or fourth place. The job is not done, but tonight we’re happy with what we’ve done on the field and we want to keep that going into the next two games.”