Atlanta United will try to win its 11th consecutive tournament game at home when it hosts Philadelphia Thursday in the semifinals of the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Union defeated the Red Bulls 4-3 on Sunday in Chester, Pa., helped by Marco Fabian’s goal in the first period of extra time after the teams tied 3-3 at the end of regulation. Philadelphia rallied from 2-0 down, and then 3-1 to win. Atlanta United and Philadelphia haven’t faced each other in a tournament or the postseason.
Atlanta United this season has won seven consecutive home games in tournaments: Champions League against Herediano and Monterrey; U.S. Open Cup against Charleston, St. Louis and Minnesota for the trophy; Campeones Cup against Club America for that trophy; and the MLS playoffs against New England on Saturday on a goal by Franco Escobar. Last season it defeated NYCFC, New York Red Bulls and then Portland to win the MLS Cup.
Atlanta United hasn’t lost a tournament game at home since Chicago defeated the Five Stripes 1-0 June 20, 2018, in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16.
“I think we have a team that really wants to play those kinds of games,” manager Frank de Boer said. “You see Franco today. It wasn’t a coincidence he made the goals. He was tremendous in the first half. So, he’s so eager to get a good result. A lot of players are like that. That’s good because normally you can not learn it. It has to be in you. We have a lot of players that are really fighters and that helps.”
Atlanta United went 0-1-1 against Philadelphia this season. The teams drew 1-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 17. Ezequiel Barco’s goal in the 70th minute offset one by Philadelphia’s Brenden Aaronson in the 47th minute. It was this game in which de Boer changed the team’s formation twice in an attempt to spark the offense.
Atlanta United was beaten 3-1 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa., on Aug. 31. Atlanta United was visibly tired having already played seven games in the month. Josef Martinez struck first, but the Union tied the game from Aaronson. With Atlanta United visibly worn out, Kacper Przyzbylko struck in the 86th minute and Sergio Santos Gomes followed with another goal in the 88th minute.
Philadelphia finished the season as the third seed with 55 points. It went 6-8-3 on the road this season.
“We talk about being a big club. We talk about wanting to win things,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We talk about being a good team that can compete and win things, so I guess when you put a trophy at the end of it, more times than not we turn up. We are lucky to be able to play in front of the fans that we have and play in this atmosphere, and call this place home, but we have three more (matches) to go. It is good, and it is great, but there is still more that we are wanting to achieve.”
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