ATLANTA — A game-winning goal by Franco Escobar late in the second half propelled Atlanta United to a victory against New England in the opening round of the 2019 MLS playoffs.
The 70th minute goal by Escobar was assisted by Ezequiel Barco, who sent a through pass to the Argentine defender, who then finished the play by shooting the ball into the top near corner of the goal.
With the win, the Five Stripes will face the Philadelphia Union Thursday night at 8 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Union advanced after defeating New York Red Bulls 4-3 in a match that was decided in extra time Sunday afternoon.
The key moment in the match was played out by manager Frank De Boer at the 65th minute when he took out Justin Meram and Emerson Hyndman and substituted in Florentin Pogba and Tito Villalba. The two subs allowed Barco to have more space in the midfield as Villalba and Pogba were able to drag at least two defenders with them when either one of them had possession of the ball. The substitutions also led to De Boer changing the formation to a 4-3-3, in which Barco and the team was able to push their men forward and find more open space.
Towards the end of the match, defender Michael Parkhurst suffered a dislocated shoulder injury and was taken off the field, which led to Atlanta playing with 10-men during the last four minutes. After the match ended, Parkhurst was taken to a local hospital but when asked about Parkhurst’s injury, De Boer said that he’s not confident that he will be able to play on Thursday’s match. With Miles Robinson also out in the central defender role, it is expected for Pogba to earn a start on Thursday.
The first half played out evenly as both teams had chances to take an early but neither team was able to capitalize off their opportunities. For United, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco had the team’s goal opportunities but their shots sailed over the goal. Meanwhile for New England, Cristian Penilla struck a right footed curling shot toward Brad Guzan’s bottom left side of the goal, but somehow and someway, Guzan was able to get a finger on the ball and sent it away from the goal and into a corner kick.