It’s never easy to get a win in the MLS Cup Playoffs. It takes grit, determination and a moment of magic. Atlanta United got all three Saturday as they held off a resurgent New England Revolution side for a 1-0 victory to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Frank de Boer kept most of the same lineup that beat the Revolution last time out, with Michael Parkhurst’s return to the starting XI in place of Miles Robinson the only change. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (DEF), Michael Parkhurst (DEF), Franco Escobar (DEF), Julian Gressel (DEF), Jeff Larentowicz (MID), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Emerson Hyndman (MID), Julian Meram (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Ezequiel Barco (FWD).
It was a cagy start for both sides, with the tension and pressure cranked up in the single-elimination knockout format. Josef Martinez came closest for the hosts, taking a corner off his chest with a yard of space, but his powerful volley went over the bar. Brad Guzan stood tall when he was needed most. When the Revs found space on the counter-attack and Cristian Penilla found a yard of space at the edge of the box, Guzan covered his corner incredibly to push out a far-post curler that looked destined to give the Revolution the lead. But with two strong teams going to head to head, neither budged –– so they went into half deadlocked at 0-0.
The second half was more of the same, but with a little more space to create chances for both sides. Twenty minutes into the second half, a key tactical change opened up the match, with Florentin Pogba and Tito Villalba entering the match in place of Emerson Hyndman and Justin Meram. Pogba’s passing range opened up the match almost immediately, curling a long pass into the path of Barco, who was just stopped by a last-gasp tackle in the box.
But five minutes after the substitution is when the match-changing moment came, and it came from a man who always seems to step up in the postseason: Franco Escobar. Darlington Nagbe got hold of possession at the top of the box and played it along to Ezequiel Barco, who topped off a sensational match with an incredible, defense-splitting pass, and Escobar made no mistake, smashing it into the top corner of the near post.
The Five Stripes locked it up from there, showing the resolve that the players said would be crucial in postseason to hold the Revolution at arms’ length. The one goal would be all they needed, locking down a spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. That match will be played at 8pm E.T. Thursday, October 24th at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the winner of the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union. Tickets are available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.