Union face familiar foe Atlanta in CCL quarterfinals: Leg 1 Preview

The Philadelphia Union move quickly in between MLS play and CCL play. Not even 24 hours after their home opener, Philly traveled to Atlanta to prepare for their CCL quarterfinal the first leg against familiar foe Atlanta United. Philadelphia and Atlanta have just two days to transition from league preparation to CCL preparation. With this being the only MLS vs MLS matchup in the quarterfinals, the stakes are high. The winner of this two-leg playoff could be the only MLS side to make it to the semifinals of this competition in 2021. Can the Union do as they did when they went to Saprissa and defy the odds to get a crucial away result?

familiar foe Atlanta
Mandatory Credit: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

Union face familiar foe Atlanta United

The Union has played Atlanta United seven times since the team from the ATL came into MLS. Philadelphia’s record against Atlanta has been less than stellar. They have one win, two draws and four losses in MLS regular season play and the playoffs. That lone win came in Chester back in 2019. Can the Union make some history and win their first-ever match at Atlanta in CCL play? They’ll need to deal with a confident Atlanta team and their fans and figure out how to get the most from themselves on short rest.

Atlanta will be at the Benz, how will they look on the field?

Atlanta United definitely had a down year in 2020. The coaching quality and quality on the field weren’t up to par with how Atlanta’s first few years went. Atlanta wasn’t confident in 2020. In many ways, it was a wash of a year for a team that is usually competing for the top of the eastern conference.

Are we seeing the rise of the “old” Atlanta?

Now, head coach Gabriel Heinze is bringing the old Atlanta United swagger back. The front office has brought sold players that no longer fit in with Atlanta and are bringing in new stars from South America to push for a top-four finish in the east. Heading into the CCL Quarterfinal, Atlanta like all other MLS sides is a work in progress.

The five stripes have not lost yet in 2021. They won both of their Round of 16 CCL matches against LD Alajuelense, drew at rivals Orlando in week one of MLS play and thumped Chicago Fire in week two. Three wins and one draw have the confidence of this team trending up, but Atlanta isn’t even playing to their full potential. The early season form isn’t where Atlanta wants it.

How will the Five Stripes look and play?

They like to play with the ball executing quick passes to create beautiful attacking sequences. In their four games, their defensive shape has been fairly sound, but their attack is not yet clicking as it could be. The new players are still gelling together, and star striker Josef Martinez has yet to play a full 90 minutes coming off an injury.

Against Philly, Atlanta will come out in their preferred 4-3-3 formation. Their front six will have star players like Ezequiel Barco, Santiago Sosa and Marcelino Moreno. These three seem to be what makes their attack click. If they are on their A-game they will have the upper hand vs Philly. ATL also has other players who can make a huge difference; potentially bringing on speedster Jürgen Damm and prolific scorer Josef Martínez. Atlanta has stars and home-field advantage in Leg one, can Philly go in there and get a positive result?

The Union will need a total team effort to get points

The Philadelphia Union will need to have a short memory as they play against the rising Atlanta United side only two days after a heartbreaking loss to Inter Miami at their home opener. Philly traveled to Atlanta not even 24 hours after their loss to get ready for what should be up there as one of the most important matches in Union history.

The grit of this team will be tested

The Union is a team that is very rigid in their style of play and the players they use in their starting XI’s. Philly will be tired against Atlanta. Can they get the most from players that have already played four matches over three weeks of time? The answer to that question lies in the team’s grit and if they can will themselves to play the way they want to in a hostile environment.

head coach Jim Curtin always seems to know how to get his team up for games like this. He is a truly great motivator. Curtin will have to speak to the underdog motif that this team thrives on. This is a group of players who are not star players, but they aspire to get to that stage. You can see it in players like Jamiro Monteiro, Kai Wagner and others that they want to be in that next tier. IF they want to get their, they’ll need to execute and win the big matches.

How will the Union look and play?

Philadelphia will come out in their preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation. They’ll try to start the game on the front foot by committing numbers high up the field. They will use the high press to make Atlanta uncomfortable in their style of play. This system of play will need to be executed to perfection against an Atlanta side who will look to always possess the ball.

If Philly can do this, then they should be able to take Atlanta off of their A-game. Keeping the ball off of the feet of Atlanta’s front six would make the Union’s chances of getting a favorable away-leg result high. As the game progresses, the more successful the Union is at doing this, the more they will have the opportunity to come away with a point or even a win! The question is, can the Union actually execute this for 90 minutes against Atlanta?

Prediction time, can the Union get points vs familiar foe Atlanta?

The key for Philadelphia is to score a goal or two. While that may seem like common sense, there is a rule at play that could give the Union the upper hand even if they lose. If Philly can score away goals against Atlanta, then they could have the upper hand in the second leg. Away goals serve as a tie-breaker in a two-legged playoff like this. No matter the result, if Philly can score a goal or two they could see that as a “win.”

When it comes to the actual result of the match, I see a 1-1 draw. Atlanta is riding high but is still a work in progress. While the Union did lose this weekend, they still have a successful style of play. That style of play and the coaching from the 2020 MLS coach of the year Jim Curtin should be enough to push this team to a draw.

Be sure to tune in on Tuesday night! FS1 will have the broadcast at 8:00 pm EST. We at Philly Sports Network and Doop by the River have you covered with content! Our preview podcast is up now! We’ll have a live stream during the match on El Parcero Philly’s Youtube channel! Don’t miss the action!

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Mandatory Credit: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire