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Five thoughts on Atlanta United advancing to their second straight Eastern Conference Final

Just win, baby.

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Semifinals-Philadelphia Union at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United are off to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Final after dispatching of the Philadelphia Union. The Five Stripes prevailed 2-0 with delightful goals coming from Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez. The result nets them a date with Toronto FC on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (8 p.m. ET, FS1) for a place in MLS Cup. Here are a few thoughts on a pragmatic and efficient playoff victory.

  • Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of Frank de Boer’s doubters collectively getting quieter and quieter. For the second playoff match in a row, the Dutchman pulled the right strings. He had the confidence and bravery to switch shapes from the 5-3-2 to the 4-3-3. He took Justin Meram, a player who has earned a pretty consistent spot in starting lineups, out and replaced him with a player who has mainly played with ATL UTD 2 for the last several months. He inserted Pity Martinez back into the fold after starting him on the bench in the last two games. Mikey Ambrose was solid and serviceable as the team’s only left back option, while Pity was arguably the most impactful player on the field in his 78 minutes. I’ve doubted De Boer plenty this season, but he’s proving now that he’s got the feel for this managing thing.
  • Pity Martinez deserves a lot of credit for returning to the lineup and being completely up for the occasion. Yes, he still had some issues turning the ball over needlessly, but he was dynamic and dangerous pretty much any time he had a chance to be. His blind throughball on Julian Gressel’s goal was something to behold. As good of a chipped finish as it was from Gressel, the pass may have been even more impressive. With some better finishing, he could’ve had two more assists to his name on the night.
  • The Union had one big chance in the game. Brendan Aaronson had a clear cut opportunity to put the Union level in the first half, but Brad Guzan came up with a huge save. Other than that, Atlanta’s makeshift back line did very well to limit Philly’s dangerous chances. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering the team is on their fourth choice center back and 3rd (?) choice left back. It wasn’t pretty or perfect at times, but they got the job done and that’s really all you can ask for.
  • We’ve harped a lot on style of play this season. Even the players themselves have moaned about the team being too conservative at points during the season. But just like Tata Martino before him, De Boer has been pragmatic and logical in his approach during the playoffs. No one remembers the less-than-exciting games when you keep winning. Maybe that’s a hypocritical outlook, but that’s playoff soccer for you. Just win, baby.
  • Josef Martinez is perfect. No amount of misses could get me to criticize him. He could punch me in the face and I’d apologize for my head being in the way of his personal space. What a player.