Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview: Will Union bounce back against Atlanta?

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The Union are coming off another tough road loss, losing 4-1 at LAFC last weekend. With the race in the eastern conference tightening up, Philadelphia will need to get back to winning ways to keep up with the east’s pace. A true test of that will be if they can beat Atlanta at home tomorrow. Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview takes a look at if the Union can bounce back and beat Atlanta United.

Matt McClain:

The Philadelphia Union were mentioned on 6ABC Action News last night. They were actually discussed. 6ABC’s Jeff Skversky even attended a training session.

Will pigs fly next? The boys in blue are hardly ever discussed on Philadelphia local news channels. Last night’s clip on Philadelphia’s preparations for Saturday, though very short, provided brief moment of realization: maybe the Union have gained the Philly sports world’s attention. Or maybe they just wrote a brief clip because they’re carrying the game this weekend.

Who cares.

What is important? Haris Medunjanin returns to the lineup following a three-match suspension. Medunjanin also recently received word that his services will be needed in 2019; his contract option was picked up by Philadelphia Thursday morning.

What else is important? Medunjanin returns for an eagerly anticipated rematch against MLS’ best team Saturday night in Atlanta United. Everyone remembers the sad excuse for officiating by Sorin Stoica during Philadelphia’s 3-1 road loss the last time they played Atlanta. Everyone also remembers Medunjanin’s lack of professionalism which resulted in his three-match ban. Medunjanin has apologized since. And life moved on.

But which Philadelphia Union team will show up Saturday? Will it be a performance similar to the near perfect display of soccer against Vancouver or will signs of poor form return like they did against LAFC to end the month of June?

One thing is known: Atlanta United FC can score goals. Currently positioned atop the Eastern Conference table with a league-leading 11 wins and 40 goals for, Atlanta has racked up a league-high of 37 points.

Another thing is known: Saturday’s match will be Atlanta’s third in just eight days’ time. What else? Their most recent match,Wednesday night at FC Dallas, resulted in just the fourth loss of the season for Atlanta, only the second loss away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Philadelphia is welcoming Atlanta to Chester at an opportune time. Common sense would suggest Atlanta’s roster may be hindered by fatigue from both a mid-week game and the extra travel with a second consecutive road outing. The reemergence of Medunjanin for Philadelphia could provide the extra ingredient for success against a potentially vulnerable, yet still very much elite Eastern Conference foe.

Temperatures are expected to return to normal by Saturday so the apocalyptic heat won’t be a factor, like it was during Atlanta’s loss to Dallas – and during my IM B-ball game inside what was truly a sweatbox labeled ‘Gym.’

Who knows, maybe even attendance numbers will spike a bit down at the kickball stadium. After all, there will be fireworks post-game, for both fans and drivers on the Commodore Barry alike.

Those who do turnout are more than likely going to witness an intense matchup. Both clubs have a lot to prove. Both lost in disappointing fashions in their previous games and that early June red card game is fresh on everyone’s mind. Also, fireworks.

Jim Curtin will hope the poor performance at LAFC is all but forgotten before kickoff Saturday. The mistakes have been lamented enough. Poor passing, and even poorer positioning will result in a loss nearly every time.

Which makes the first goal even more vital to secure for Philadelphia against Atlanta. Curtin and his players have mentioned the style of play they favor is severely handicapped when having to play from behind. Think of the opening 20 minutes of Saturday’s match as you would the first round or two of a boxing match-up. Philadelphia must be fully engaged and intent on threatening Atlanta whenever possible from the opening whistle.

And remained disciplined while doing so.

Prediction: Union: 2 Atlanta: 2
Union Man of the Match: Cory Burke

Tim Lovenguth:

The Union are a team at an interesting crossroads. They’ve done enough to be in contention for the playoffs this season, but have actually had their worst first half of a season under Earnie Stewart’s tenure as sporting director. The players hyped up as goal scorers before the season, CJ Sapong and David Accam, have a combined two goals. Both those goals came from Sapong, but he hasn’t scored since April! With Atlanta United coming to town, the Union will need to score at will to get the W.

The one thing the Union have going for them is that they will be at full strength to take on Atlanta. Borek Dockal will be back with the team after missing the last match due to the birth of his child. So to, will Haris Medunjanin! The Bosnian has finished serving his three game suspension and is ready to get going again, against the same team where he picked up his long suspension!

These two being back will help out Alejandro Bedoya who has had an amazing year holding everything together for the Union. That midfield three coupled with the skill of Ilsinho on the right-wing, and the speed of Fafa Picault on the left-wing could give Atlanta fits. However the Union will need to hope their young back line can stifle the lethal Atlanta attack.

The start to the Union’s last meeting with Atlanta went beautifully. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie did a great job at keeping Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. After going down to nine men the back line struggled to keep Atlanta in check. They will need to do just that this time around, hopefully with 11 men for the entire match! The opportunity is there for the Union to get a statement win over the top team in the east. The defensive shape and dealing of Atlanta’s superstars will be what propels the Union to that win!

I expect head coach Jim Curtin to start CJ Sapong again at striker. He sticks by him, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Burke on the bench in this one. Especially since there are so many games in the month of July.

This match is going to be a close one, but I see the Union pulling off a statement win to show they are really in the race for the playoffs in the east. I see Atlanta scoring first through Martinez, which will spark a Union rally. Goals from Ilsinho and Dockal, both assisted from Medunjanin will give the boys in blue their statement win!

Prediction: Union: 2 Atlanta: 1
Union Man of the Match: Haris Medunjanin

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Tim Lovenguth

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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