ATLANTA — The Union’s postseason run came to a screeching halt Thursday night, four days after the first playoff win in franchise history.
The Union fell to Atlanta United FC, 2-0, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Instead of the Union, Atlanta will play Toronto at home next week in the Eastern Conference final.
“I’m disappointed,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said after the match. “I think maybe when we get a chance to reflect on the season, it is the best season in club history. We finally won that playoff game. But, today I’m frustrated."
Team manager Jim Curtin said, “It never feels good when the season comes to a close. I think the players have really made our fans proud. I think he club has moved forward in a real positive way. I think there is a lot to be excited about for the Philadelphia Union.
“I think this group of players [gave] the City of Philadelphia … something to cheer about and get excited about.”
Atlanta’s Josef Martinez put the match away with 10 minutes remaining, when he drilled a shot into the upper left corner past the outstretched hands of Union goalkeeper Andre Blake.
Midfielder Julian Gressel put Atlanta in front early in the match. In the 10th minute, he cut the ball into Gonzalo Martinez, who returned it with a delicate pass. Blake rushed out to cut off the pass, but Gressel chipped it neatly into the goal.
“I’ve told you guys all week, for the past couple months, we cannot concede an early goal,” Bedoya said. "And that’s what happens, and it’s just an uphill battle from there on. I thought the first half we stuck to the game plan, we did well. I thought we created the better chances.”
The Union had a chance to tie the score in the 17th minute, when Sergio Santos crossed the ball from the left side to a streaking Brenden Aaronson. But goalkeeper Brad Guzan made a kick save on Aaronson’s shot to keep Atlanta in front. It was the best chance the Union would have all night.
“It was a night where we didn’t play the perfect match, but we certainly had our chances,” Curtin said. “I know we were disappointed to concede early, but the first half went OK. I just thought that we disrupted them and turned them over in some pretty good spots.”
Atlanta nearly pulled way in the 61st minute after a scramble in the box, but Blake made back-to-back saves on a Franco Escobar shot and a Leandro Gonzalez Pirez header. Later, Union defender Raymon Gaddis was able to get in front of Martinez to block the striker’s shot.
The Union started the game in a 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. Aaronson played the central attacking role, with Haris Medunjanin taking a deeper role in the center of midfield to protect the back line. The midfield diamond created overloads in the first half, yet the Union mustered only one shot on goal. Fatigue likely played a role, with the visitors coming off a 120-minute overtime victory against the New York Red Bulls.
“The first half, I thought we played really well,” Bedoya said. “Then, the second half, fatigue hits. My right leg’s about to fall off. You could see it in everybody else. We put a lot in that Red Bulls game, one day less of recovery [than Atlanta, which won on Saturday], the travel. It is what it is. But, hat’s off to Atlanta, they made the difference with their goal scorers, and we just weren’t able to put the ball in the back of the net in the first half.”
The Union created only three shots on goal. It didn’t help that they were without leading scorer Kacper Przybylko, who was out with a foot injury.
Ilsinho entered the match early in the second half for Aaronson to inject creativity. Curtin also substituted Santos in the 66th minute for Marco Fabián.
Instead, it was Atlanta that scored, sending the Union home to look to 2020 to build on the success of its historic season.
“Overall, we got to keep our heads up,” Bedoya said, “because … we got the first win in playoff history, we had a good overall season. We just didn’t have enough today. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this offseason, but we definitely made a big stride this year, we put a step forward, and I’m looking forward to next year.”
Curtin said: “I think the Philadelphia Union has shown that it is a club on the rise. Are we perfect yet? No, we are not. We still have a lot to work on, but it is good to be moving in the right direction.”
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