The Union are in the midst of a very good run of form. Beating Chicago Fire at home on Wednesday night 3-1 gave Philadelphia Union their third win in four matches. In the middle of what seems to be one of the hardest stretch of the season for Philly, the Union have mustered up a draw at Red Bulls, and a win at home against Chicago. Now it’s time for the real test! Philadelphia Union take on Atlanta United FC down south! Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview if the Union can get any points from Atlanta!
Saturday night the Union head down south to take on the best team in MLS, Atlanta United FC. The Union are unbeaten in their last four matches, winning three of four, and outscoring the opposition 9-2 during that stretch. Everything seems to be clicking and coach Jim Curtin must know Earnie is on his way out. Evidence can be found in him changing up the entire front three for the 3-1 victory over Chicago. In past seasons, C.J. Sapong could have one leg falling off and it wouldn’t matter how many matches they played in a week. He would always get the starting nod. Could this be a sign of things to come? Curtin actually making decisions to benefit the team before the season slips away?
Victories over Montreal, Real Salt Lake and Chicago were all must-wins. The match versus the Red Bulls should have been another win but let’s not beat a dead horse. Atlanta is a different beast. Especially at home, their offense resembles that of a video game, passing up and down the pitch with preciseness and speed the league has maybe never seen. Their roster includes current MLS leading goal-scorer, Josef Martinez, with nine, and having even a better season, midfielder Miguel Almiron, with six goals and six assists. Now, they are vulnerable at home, losing their last two matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The last two home losses could be bad news for our boys, as Atlanta will be out for blood.
Halfway through the Chicago match, I thought the Union had a shot at a draw on Saturday. Not so much now. The injury that will keep center back Mark McKenzie out will be devastating to a line-up, and especially a back line that has been clicking on all cylinders. It will be interesting to see what this “new” coach Curtin does with the roster for this one. David Accam has been invisible but Atlanta’s speed is something he could help counteract. Fafa Picault should only play if he is 100%. Will Ilsinho or Epps get the start on the right wing? I don’t know if anyone has that answer. Does he have the guts to not start his beloved C.J. two matches in a row? When was the last time we didn’t know what the mysterious Jim Curtin would do?
Prediction: Atlanta United FC: 3 Philadelphia Union: 2
Union man of the match: Cory Burke
Arguably the most hyped match-up on the Union’s schedule to date has to be tonight’s against Atlanta. Philadelphia ride their 4-match unbeaten streak into Georgia, inside the giant Mercedes Benz Stadium.
In terms of wins and losses, Atlanta easily has Philadelphia bested. Atlanta amassed 28 points to date on eight total wins (4 W’s @ H, 4 W’s @ A) so far, however they’ve suffered two losses inside their blessed Mercedes Benz Stadium.
So all hope for Philadelphia is not lost.
Union head coach Jim Curtin and his team recorded a 3-0-1 stretch of soccer during their recent 4-match unbeaten streak. A young backline surrendered just two goals during that stretch, although they’ll be tested tonight thanks to the injury to Mark McKenzie. surrendered just two goals during that stretch. The midfield trio of Medunjanin, Bedoya, and Dockal meshed almost seamlessly to create an abundance of offensive chances, totaling nine goals during this streak of impressive soccer.
Players are gelling on and off the pitch more also.
This is the part of the season some Union fans, otherwise known as ‘DoomsDay Doopers,’ never fathomed. In fact, I’m not sure they’re entirely happy about Philadelphia producing entertaining soccer once more. Maybe those skeptical fans who continue to question a coach and his players despite concrete evidence of progress are in concrete states of denial. And the only realistic ending for them is doomsday for this franchise. I guess they’ll continuing wallowing in pity while missing out on an entertaining campaign of soccer.
The question is and will remain to be “What if the Union are a good team?”
From the last two weeks worth of soccer, it’s not too far off to suggest Philadelphia is actually good at soccer. In order to get to that belief, however, you must cut through unending strains of red and yellow tape placed before your eyes by those previously mentioned “DoomsDay Doopers.”
You know them when you see them, hear them, or read their tweets or facebook comments. It’s all the same to them, whether Philadelphia is playing good soccer, mediocre ball, or a straight up snooze fest.
So, I say challenge yourself to remove the negative rhetoric that has been spinning in orbit around this team and its staff. Ignore the negativity from reporters of the past who fail to see the potential of the organization.
Find out through your own eyes whether Philadelphia has overcome their “systemic road woes” tonight vs MLS’ best.
Prediction: Atlanta United FC: 1 Philadelphia Union: 1
Man of the Match: Borek Dockal (Union are 4-0-1 when Dockal scores or assists on a goal)
After the Union’s midweek win over Chicago Fire, young center back Auston Trusty was full of confidence. He was already focused for the next game, talking about Atlanta United, most notably saying “We’ll show ‘em what’s up.” This is a combination of youth and confidence, something the Union have relied on during their recent good run of form. Trusty and McKenzie have looked like veterans in central defense, even though they are both 19. This youthful confidence has been a catalyst for success, and has helped the Union’s veterans find success as well. This is the best possible scenario for this Union side as they go on the road to Atlanta.
Atlanta is the best team in the east, but have lost twice at home. They have one of the best attacks in MLS right now, and quite possibly in MLS history. The confident young center backs of the Union will have to show everyone “what’s up” if they want to be seen as “for real.” Speaking of that, Mark McKenzie’s injury update is a good one, he could be up for selection for tonight’s match. The young center backs and the rest of the back line will have to be up for the task of stopping Atlanta’s attack. However, if the Union can duplicate their game plan from their match at Red Bulls a week ago, they may be able to find a way to get points from this one.
The Union will need their veteran midfield three to control the game, and use their speed on the wings to counter Atlanta. The teams that have won in Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Atlanta have been able to dictate possession in the middle of the field, or hit them on the break down the wings. Medunjanin, Bedoya and Dockal will need to look like they have the last few games. Disrupting Atlanta in the middle of the field is key to stopping their lethal attack. Hitting them on the break with, I’d assume Epps and Fafa, would make Atlanta scramble when they are dispossessed. With Cory Burke in the middle to finish those chances, the Union could get the job done!
As much of an optimist I am, I don’t see the Union taking all three points. There is a strong possibility that this could be a loss. However the teams confidence as of late makes me think that this team will actually try when they get knocked down from here on out. I see the Union fighting for a HUGE draw! If they do this, they will show they are actual contenders for a lower seeded playoff spot in the east.
Prediction: Atlanta United: 2 Philadelphia Union: 2
Union Man of the Match: Auston Trusty (“Show ‘em what’s up”)
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports