Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer watches during the second half of the team's MLS soccer match against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.
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Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer watches during the second half of the team's MLS soccer match against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.

The playoff run for MLS Cup defending champions Atlanta United continues with a conference semifinal match against Philadelphia Union. The winner will go on to face Toronto FC in the conference final and will be one step close to playing for the league title.  GPB's Robert Jimison previews Thursday's Atlanta United match with All Things Considered Host Rickey Bevington.

Both teams have endured a long season to make it to this point, who will come out on top?  

Player injuries, coaching strategy and the change in format for the MLS Cup Playoffs will all impact the outcome of the match.  

 

New Playoff Format 

 

Before the format change the top 12 teams made it into the playoffs. Six from the eastern conference and six from the western conference. Each round the teams would play 2 matches and whoever scored the most points total between the two would advance to the next round.  

At the end of the 2018 season, the MLS announced a change to the format.  

 

This year, there are 14 teams in the playoffs, seven from each conference, and it is single elimination. You win, you move on. You lose you are out. 

 

The “win or go home” option made for tense first-round match ups with high drama, unpredictable swings and must-watch television.  

 

Thursday’s contest between Atlanta and Philadelphia will be the third time these two teams face each other this year.   

 

During their two meetings in the regular season they tied in March at Mercedes Benz stadium. In August the Five Stripes were defeated 3-1 in Pennsylvania.  

 

Injuries and Player Lineups 

 

Both teams have injured players who may or may not play in the match. 

 

For United, captain Michael Parkhurst and top defender Miles Robinson will be missing from action according to coach Frank de Boer.  

 

For the visiting team, top goal scorer Kacper Przybylko missed the first round of the playoffs with a foot injury. It is unclear if he will play. 

 

After starting 11 straight games, Pity Martinez was noticeably absent from Atlanta’s playoff match against New England.  

 

Speaking to reporters, United coach Frank de Boer did not provide any details about his lineup and left the door open for another game with Martinez absent.  

 

“You know what I always say,” de Boer said Tuesday. “I'm looking toward this game with the team that, for me, has the most chance to win. That can be without Barco or that can be without Pity or both together, but we have to wait for Thursday.” 

 

The winner of Thursday’s match will go on to face Toronto FC, who defeated New York City FC Wednesday, in the conference final.