Atlanta United top New England to kick-start MLS Cup defense
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Atlanta United are one step closer to defending the MLS Cup after beating the New England Revolution 1-0 on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Franco Escobar capped off a period of sustained pressure for the hosts in the 70th minute. Ezequiel Barco found his Argentine countryman in stride with a slick ball before Escobar fired a thumping effort from an acute angle beyond a helpless Matt Turner.

The central defender has now scored three playoff goals in two seasons, including Atlanta's second in last year's MLS Cup final victory over the Portland Timbers.

Atlanta's goal came minutes after manager Frank de Boer tinkered with The Five Stripes' formation.

Hector Villalba and Florentin Pogba were introduced in the 65th minute for Emerson Hyndman and Justin Meram, altering the team's shape to a back-four and shifting Escobar out wide right. Both Villalba and Pogba were involved in the lead-up to Escobar's goal.

Josef Martinez should have secured the victory in the 88th minute when the Venezuelan record-setter outpaced a pair of New England defenders to unleash a shot, but Turner came up with the deft saved.

A scary moment came toward the end of the match when veteran defender Michael Parkhurst appeared to separate his shoulder. Parkhurst, who started for the injured Miles Robinson, limped off the pitch as Atlanta saw out the waning moments with 10 men.

Atlanta now awaits the winner of Sunday's match between the Philadelphia Union and the New York Red Bulls to determine its opponent in the next round.

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Atlanta United top New England to kick-start MLS Cup defense
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