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Union lose to United, fall short of MLS Eastern Conference final

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USA Today Images/Dale Zanine

Union lose to United, fall short of MLS Eastern Conference final

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ATLANTA — Julian Gressel scored early, Josef Martinez added a late goal and defending champion Atlanta United played keep away in between to beat the Union 2-0 on Thursday night to advance to the MLS Eastern Conference final.

United will host Toronto FC on Wednesday night. Toronto beat top-seed New York City FC 2-1 on the road Wednesday night.

Atlanta was especially diligent and crisp passing the ball, connecting on 85.4 percent of their 254 passes, and held the ball more than 53 percent of the time.

Left midfielder Pity Martinez, who returned to the starting lineup after missing United's first-round win over New England, came onto a ball about 35 yards in front of goal and sent a diagonal pass right ahead of Gressel.

The ball entered the box a few yards before Gressel, but he got to it before Union goalkeeper Andre Blake and touched it left around him to the far post for the score.

"We were secure with our passing, but also our opponent gets more tired and they have to run more behind the ball," United coach Frank de Boer said.

The Union, who were missing leading scorer Kacper Przybylko because of a foot stress reaction, pressed forward when they could, but United held the ball often and Atlanta also won 58 of 99 duels.

Just three of the Union's 11 shots were on goal, and the Union's best chance to score may have come in the 58th minute, when forward Jack Elliott's near header off of a corner kick sailed over goal.

Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan also repelled a quality shot by the Union's Marco Fabian in the 75th minute.

Without injured defenders Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst, de Boer deployed four across the back line, including rarely-utilized Mikey Ambrose and Florentin Pogba.

They were rarely threatened.

"Also, what we showed today in playing four in the back is that we can adjust very quickly to another system, and that's difficult for an opponent," de Boer said. "It was a very mature game."

Gressel assisted on the Josef Martinez goal in the 80th minute with a long ball from Atlanta's end as the striker got forward left for a breakaway. He the curled a left footer into the top left corner of the goal, outside of Blake's reach, for his seventh goal in seven career games against the Union.

Blake kept the match close when he made consecutive saves on close-range headers by Franco Escobar and Gressel in the 61st minute.

The Union appeared fatigued down the stretch, however likely because they last played Sunday in a 120-minute overtime win over New York Red Bulls, while United played a regulation match Saturday. Union coach Jim Curtin used all three of his subs.

Next Wednesday's Eastern final will match the defending MLS champion Atlanta and 2018 titlist Toronto. The teams split meetings in the regular season, United winning 2-0 at home on May 8 and FC prevailing 3-2 in Canada on June 26.

Union beat Red Bulls in extra time, earn first playoff win in franchise history

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USA Today Images/Eric Hartline

Union beat Red Bulls in extra time, earn first playoff win in franchise history

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CHESTER, Pa. — Fabrice-Jean Picault scored and assisted on Marco Fabian's goal in extra time to help the Philadelphia Union beat New York 4-3 on Sunday and eliminate the Red Bulls from the playoffs.

Fabian came on in the 103rd minute and scored in the 105th when his shot from the left side deflected high off New York's Marc Rzatkowski into the net.

Third-seeded Philadelphia, which earned the first MLS playoff win in franchise history, will play at No. 2 seed Atlanta in the second round Thursday night.

Josh Sims blasted a right-footer from outside the top of the box to open the scoring in the sixth minute and Tim Parker's header in the 24th gave the Red Bulls a 2-0 lead. It was the 22-year-old Sims' first MLS goal.

Alejandro Bedoya side-netted a first-timer in the 30th minute to cut Philadelphia's deficit in half but Tom Barlow scored in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time to make it 3-1.

Sergio Santos' header deflected off the crossbar and Jack Elliott headed home the rebound for Philadelphia in the 52nd minute. Picault, who came on in the 72nd, scored in the 78th to make it 3-3.

Kacper Przybylko, whose 15 goals this season are more than twice as many as any other Union player, did not play (foot stress reaction). Philadelphia had 62 percent possession and outshot the Red Bulls 32-11.

Union fall to top seed NYCFC in regular-season finale

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USA Today Images/James Lang

Union fall to top seed NYCFC in regular-season finale

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CHESTER, Pa. — Ronald Matarrita and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored and New York City FC beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Sunday in the regular-season finale.

New York City (18-6-10), the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, earned a first-round bye and will play No. 4 seed Toronto or fifth-seeded D.C. United in the conference semifinals.

Philadelphia (16-11-7) lost three of its last four regular-season games, falling from first to third in the Eastern standings. The Union will host the sixth-seeded New York Red Bulls in the knockout round.

Matarrita opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Valentin Castellanos, at the top of the area, first-timed a pass from Ben Sweat to Matarrita for the finish from near the spot. It was the first goal of the season for the 25-year-old defender.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi chipped an entry from outside the area that deflected off the Union's Jamiro Monteiro into the goal to make it 2-0 in the 22nd and Philadelphia's Marco Fabian converted from the spot in the 87th minute.