In their first season in MLS, Atlanta United FC are going to the playoffs.
Fueled by first-half goals from rookie Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez — his 18th of the season — the Five Stripes cruised to a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union to become the fourth expansion team and first since the 2009 Seattle Sounders to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Jacob Peterson put an exclamation mark on the win with a late goal for Atlanta, who are unbeaten in their last seven and improved to 5-0-1 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they’ve outscored their opponents by a whopping 22-3 margin.
The final score could have been a lot more lopsided if not for Andre Blake making seven saves for the Union, who are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention.
NO ALMIRON, NO PROBLEM: Yes, Atlanta will almost certainly need Miguel Almiron back in the fold to contend for an MLS Cup. But the Five Stripes still showed how dangerous they can be without the injured midfielder, dominating the Union early — especially in the possession battle — and peppering Blake with dangerous chances all night. They even could have scored another one had a Hector Villalba goal not been disallowed due to Video Review for Martinez being offside. And even without captain and minutes leader Michael Parkhurst — who was given a rest during the team’s grueling stretch of eight games in 23 days — Atlanta stormed to their third straight shutout.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR? The 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year was almost certainly on the field at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. And it was Gressel, making just his second start in the last eight games, who made the case it should go to him with a great move to score the game’s first goal followed by an assist six minutes later. Meanwhile, Philly center back Jack Elliott — probably his chief competitor to win the award — very nearly scored himself with Brad Guzan making a diving stop on him on the final play of the game.
Rookie of the Year #ATLUTD— Michael Parkhurst (@MFparkhurst) September 27, 2017
ROAD WOES: To their credit, the Union showed a little bit of life in the second half against an Atlanta team that’s pummeled visiting teams by worse at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. But Philly's road struggles continued nonetheless as they fell to a woeful 1-9-6 away from home. The Union are not quite eliminated from the playoffs yet — a New York Red Bulls win, rather than a tie, would have done the trick — but it's just about over for Jim Curtin's group as an important offseason looms.
They Said It
Or, rather, they sang it:
- ATL: Saturday, September 30 at New England Revolution (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE)
- PHI: Sunday, October 1 vs. Seattle Sounders FC (1 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes)