MLS Focus: Atlanta United clinches first-round bye

Atlanta United became the first team to clinch a bye into the conference semifinals when it beat Real Salt Lake, 2-0, in front of 72,017 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and NYCFC could only draw at Montreal, 1-1, on Saturday.

Julian Gressel scored on a volley and added an assist on a goal by Tito Villalba, who scored in his third consecutive game, all wins over the last eight days.

Atlanta United remained four points ahead of the New York Red Bulls in the race for the Supporters' Shield with four games to play. The Five Stripes and Red Bulls, the only teams in MLS to have clinched playoff berths, will meet next Sunday at Red Bull Arena.

Atlanta coach Tata Martino dismissed the idea that his team has a hand on the Supporters' Shield.

“Yeah, we might have a hand on it," he said, "but the Red Bulls want to cut that hand off. What leaves me happiest is, first that we took nine out of nine points, but furthermore that in the third game we were able to find our level of play again. The level of play today and the victory.”

Bello gets first start. Martino gave 16-year-old Homegrown Player George Bello his first MLS start as he used the match to rest defenders Chris McCann and Michael Parkhurst.

"George came on and he did a really good job," said Martino. "You have to remember that he is only 16 years old. But he has to be brave to come in and step into that spot. He’s very young, but he played well and could have even scored a goal.”
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