ATLANTA - Julian Gressel scored in the 10th minute, Josef Martinez added a late goal and defending champion Atlanta United beat the Philadelphia Union 2-0 on Thursday night to advance to the Eastern Conference final.
United will host Toronto FC on Wednesday night. Toronto beat top-seed New York City FC 2-1 on the road Wednesday night.
Pity Martinez, who returned to starting lineup after missing United's first-round win over New England, came on a ball in about 35 yards in front of goal and sent a diagonal pass right ahead of Gressel. The ball entered the box ahead of Gressel, but he got to it before Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake and touched it left around him to the far post for the score.
Union, which was missing leading scorer Kacper Przybylko because of a foot stress reaction, pressed forward when it could, but United held the ball with 54 percent possession. Just three of Philadelphia's 10 shots were on goal, and Union's best chance to score may have come in the 58th minute, when forward Jack Elliott's near header off of a corner kick sailed over goal.
Gressel assisted on the Martinez goal, when the striker got forward down the left side and the curled a left footer into the top left corner of the goal, outside of Blake's reach.
Blake kept the match close when he made consecutive saves on close-range headers by Franco Escobar and Gressel in the 61st minute.
Philadelphia appeared fatigued down the stretch, like because Union last played Sunday in a 120-minute overtime win over New York Red Bulls, while United played a regulation match Saturday. Union coach Jim Curtin used all three of his subs.
Atlanta's Julian Gressel (24) shoots over Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake (18) and scores a goal during the MLS playoff match between Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United FC on October 24th, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images / Getty Images)
Atlanta's Leandro González Pirez scored a first-half goal. Then Julian Gressel shoots over Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake for the second goal.
Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan made several saves during the match.
Philadelphia 0 0--0
Atlanta 1 1--2
First half--1, Atlanta, Gressel, 7 (Martinez), 10th minute.
Second half--2, Atlanta, Martinez, 28 (Gressel), 80th.
Goalies--Philadelphia, Andre Blake, Joe Bendik; Atlanta, Brad Guzan, Alec Kann.
Yellow Cards--Bedoya, Philadelphia, 34th; Gressel, Atlanta, 38th; Wagner, Philadelphia, 74th; Escobar, Atlanta, 88th.
Referee--Ismail Elfath. Assistant Referees--Corey Parker, Kyle Atkins, Edvin Jurisevic. 4th Official--Baldomero Toledo.
Philadelphia--Andre Blake; Jack Elliott, Raymon Gaddis, Mark McKenzie, Kai Wagner (Andrew Wooten, 82nd); Brendan Aaronson (Ilsinho, 52nd), Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Jamiro Monteiro, Fafa Picault; Sergio Santos (Marco Fabian, 66th).
Atlanta--Brad Guzan; Mikey Ambrose (Mo Adams, 84th), Franco Escobar, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz, Florentin Pogba; Ezequiel Barco (Emerson Hyndman, 73rd), Julian Gressel, Gonzalo Pity Martinez (Eric Remedi, 80th); Josef Martinez, Darlington Nagbe.