Playoff berths clinched, Union jockey with Atlanta for positioning

The Philadelphia Union will try to overcome their own wear and tear in addition to an improving and rested Atlanta United side when the teams meet on Wednesday night in Chester, Pa.

The Union (14-8-9, 51 points) have drawn their last five MLS games, an odd streak for the defending Eastern Conference champions that coach Jim Curtin believes owes in part to the team’s busy schedule.

Across four different competitions — the league, CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup — the Union have already played 45 matches. In that context, Curtin saw Saturday night’s 1-1 tie at Columbus — in which Nathan Harriel scored for the visitors — as a favorable outcome.

“We have a very gassed group,” Curtin said. “I have to give a ton of credit to the players; short-handed, injuries, everybody’s still stepping up and earning a hard road point.”

Striker Julian Carranza — second on the Union with 12 goals — could return to the starting lineup after missing one game in the league’s concussion protocol and coming off the bench Saturday.

Atlanta (13-8-10, 49 points) was idle over the weekend after romping to a 4-1 home win over CF Montreal on Sept. 23, in which Giorgos Giakoumakis scored his team-leading 15th goal to move into a three-way tie in the MLS Golden Boot race.

Thiago Almada also scored and picked up his MLS-leading 16th assist in what is widely expected to be his final season in MLS before moving on to a European destination.

Like fourth-place Philadelphia, sixth-place Atlanta has already clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth, and finishing in the top four and earning home-field advantage in a first-round playoff series is still a possibility.

But the Five Stripes will have to earn it by facing teams above them in the standings in their final three games — Philadelphia, Columbus and Cincinnati — beginning Wednesday.

“The last three, I think is the perfect schedule,” coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “It’s kind of a preseason for playoffs. Those are going to be finals. Those are going to be intense. Those are going to prepare us fantastically for what is coming.”