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Early concession haunts Philadelphia Union again in playoff loss at Atlanta United

The Union could not recover from a 10th-minute Atlanta goal.

ATLANTA — For weeks, Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya harped on one specific thing. 

By the 10th minute of their Eastern Conference semifinal loss to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Union were chasing a game after the concession of an early goal. 

“In the first half, we stuck to the game plan. I thought we created the better chances. I’ve told you guys for the past few months that we can’t concede an early goal. That’s what happens. It’s an uphill battle from there on,” Bedoya said. 

Julian Gressel’s 10th-minute strike continued an ugly trend established by the decision day loss to New York City FC and the first-round playoff win against the New York Red Bulls

Philadelphia turned into the aggressor after the goal, but it could not break down Atlanta’s makeshift backline led by Leandro González-Pírez and Florentin Pogba. 

While pushing for the equalizer, the visitors failed to show a killer instinct in front of the net, with Brenden Aaronson’s first-half one-on-one chance the best of the lot. 

“That and not conceding in the first 10 minutes again,” Bedoya said. “If Brenden scores, I think I had a decent chance that I flubbed with my left foot there. I thought I hit a good cross to Sergio that he couldn’t get on the end of it.” 

The Union finished with 12 shots, three of which were on target. The home side took the same number of shots despite defending for long stretches. 

“I thought we created the better chances in the first half. Even though they had the better ball possession, we were the sharper team,” Bedoya said. “Conceding that first goal early in a hostile environment is difficult to come back from. You have to put that much more into the game. Overall, we have to keep our heads up because if I reflect more and more, we got the first playoff win in club history. We had a good overall campaign. We just didn’t have enough today.” 

Making things more difficult, the absence of leading scorer Kacper Przybyłko hampered the Union’s finishing quality. Fafà Picault and Sergio Santos combined for two shots, one of which was on target. 

After playing 120 minutes on Sunday, the Union suffered from fatigue — especially Santos, who went longer than usual in Chester, Pa., and felt the effects Thursday night. 

“Sergio put a ton into the last game, 100-plus minutes, which we did not expect,” manager Jim Curtin said. “I think he did a great job giving it everything he had tonight. But you could see 15 minutes in, he was already stretching his hamstring, didn’t have the same burst. Fafà as well emptied his tank on the field for us. It was just a night where Atlanta defended well, made some key blocks, put their bodies on the line a bunch in front of goal, but we were just in transitions.” 

Although the 2019 campaign ended in frustrating fashion, the Union still kept perspective after the best season in franchise history. 

“A lot to be proud of for the season from a lot of individual standpoints, from the team standpoint, and I think the Philadelphia Union has shown it’s a club on the rise,” Curtain said. “Are we perfect? No we’re not. We still have a lot to work on. But it’s good to be moving in the right direction.”

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