The Union faces their biggest game of the season on Saturday as the defending MLS Cup (and now Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup) champions, Atlanta United come to town. Both teams are tied for 1st place, and with the incredible form Atlanta is playing in right now, the Union has their hands full this Saturday night.
Atlanta United’s Projected Starting XI (3-4-2-1): GK Brad Guzan ©- D Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, D Miles Robinson, D Florentin Pogba- M Julian Gressel, M Darlington Nagbe, M Eric Remedi, M Justin Meram, M Hector Villaba, M Pity Martinez- F Josef Martinez
Player to watch: Forward, Josef Martinez
Lineup Analysis: Atlanta has been known to put as many attacking pieces on the field, Atlanta does this by putting out a 3-4-2-1 formation. Everyone raves about the Atlanta offense, but the Atlanta defense has been exceptional in 2019 as well. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has been tough to beat this year, as he continues to build upon his tremendous goalkeeping legacy. Center back Miles Robinson has been putting in good performances game in and game out and is a front runner for MLS defender of the year. With so many talented players on the pitch, like former South American player of the year Pity Martinez, or the 2018 MLS MVP in Josef Martinez, it is tough to pick just one player to watch. After his tremendous goal-scoring form in the past few months, the Union needs to keep an eye on Josef Martinez. The former MLS MVP is one of the best scorers of all-time and continues to break records by putting the ball in the back of the net. Martinez now has at least one goal scored in the past 12 MLS games, so Jack Elliot will have to stick with him constantly for all 90 minutes. With Ezequiel Barco being out, I expect Hector Villaba to play higher than Pity Martinez, but both are exceptional talents. The two terrific playmakers have great speed and wonderful skill on the ball. The Union has to stay with these versatile playmakers and make sure they don’t create their own shot or even worse for the Union, play a magnificent pass to Josef Martinez. No matter how a team plays defense on this Atlanta team, they are flat out dangerous.
Union’s Projected Starting XI (4-1-2-1-2): GK Andre Blake- D Kai Wagner, D Mark McKenzie, D Jack Elliott, Raymon Gaddis- M Jamiro Monteiro, M Haris Medunjanin ©, M Brenden Aaronson, M Marco Fabian- F Kacper Przybylko, F Fafa Picault
Player to Watch: Midfielder, Jamiro Monteiro
Lineup Analysis: We saw Philly change their formation against D.C. last week, and we saw the Union score three goals. Against this Atlanta team, however, the Union needs to exploit the space of cheating wing-backs Justin Meram and Julian Gressel. In order to exploit space a team needs speed, and that could mean a start for Fafa Picault. If Pryzbylko wasn’t in such great form right now, Wooten might get the start because of the exploiting space factor as well. However, with Przybylko being in the lineup, expect the Union to whip in plenty of crosses to try and take advantage of his size. However, the player to watch this week is Jamiro Monteiro. Manager Jim Curtin has hinted at Monteiro playing an “8” position this week, which could work out perfectly for the Union. Monteiro has more speed than Medunjanin and would be able to track down Atlanta’s big three a little better. If Monteiro can help shut down Atlanta’s big three, the Union has a great chance of securing the win.
Last Contest between the clubs: The last time these two teams played against each other, was way back in March. The Union got off to a shocking lead in the second half, when 18-year-old Brendan Aaronson scored a minute after halftime. Unfortunately, the Union wasn’t able to hold on as Ezequiel Barco came on as a second-half sub and equalized with a heading shot past Andre Blake. After a few chances from the Union, the boys in blue sadly were unable to regain the lead, and the Union came home with one point.
Match Preview: The battle of first place this Saturday will be a heavily contested game. The Union needs to get off to a quick start in front of a wild Talen Energy Stadium crowd, so expect some quick balls over the top to Fafa Picault, to try and get some attacks going. The key to beating Atlanta is to exploit the space left due to a three man defense. Meram and Gressel will be caught out at times trying to assist the Atlanta offense, so that is when the Union needs to strike. Stretch out the three man defense and find spaces in between to make runs through the defense. The big three of Atlanta will be tough to stop and I see a handful of goals coming through this game. I predict a 2-2 tie.
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports