The Union drew in their return to MLS play at Atlanta United in a thrilling 2-2 game. There were plenty of ups and downs in this one. Atlanta was up by two goals late on in this match. In the end, the Philadelphia Union comeback was complete thanks to their never say die attitude.
Philadelphia Union comeback: Smash and Grab
This match had everything. It was the first meeting in MLS between these two sides since their quarterfinal matches in CCL. There was definitely some bad blood in those matches that carried into this one. The pace of the game was at times frantic; the players were doing what they could to get under the opposition’s skin. The coaches were trying to out-tactic each other in a way that made this game enthralling for fans of both teams, and neutrals alike. Let’s take a look back at another installment of what could be a blossoming MLS rivalry.
As this match began, it was clear that the Union was going to be allowed to possess the ball. Gabriel Heinze took a page out of Jim Curtin’s book and sat back and looked to counter. In the first five minutes, it showed that this would work in favor of Atlanta. The Union were passing the ball around but went backward too often; United was then able to push forward off of turnovers and create chances.
Atlanta on the front foot
Atlanta kept this strategy going, and they were able to spring attacks thanks to Santiago Sosa’s brilliant work in the midfield. He singlehandedly created multiple chances throughout the first 10 minutes because of his ability to pass through the Union’s lines. Luckily for Philly, nothing came of those early chances. The Union created chances in the first half as well.
Philly’s attack not clicking
Philly was able to have some success when working the ball to their strikers who could hold up the play and play it into wide areas. A few times this created chances on goal that were stopped by Atlanta’s Brad Guzan. The biggest chance for the Union came at the feet of Anthony Fontana. The now veteran homegrown was given another opportunity to show what he has at the number 10 position, but unfortunately, he had a bit of a rough game. He was put in on goal, but couldn’t get the ball around Guzan. If it was one year ago he would have been just lifted the ball over the sliding keeper and it would be 1-0 Union, alas that’s not how this attempt was played.
Chippy play to end the half
The rest of the first half was filled with attacking sequences from Atlanta and bend-don’t-break defending from Philly. Mbaizo put out multiple fires with his speed and ability to track back to block shots and crosses. The Union was doing enough collectively to stop Atlanta, but couldn’t then spring a counterattack that was fruitful the other way. The match was getting chippy as the Union’s Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach got yellow cards on the field and Gabriel Heinze got one off the field.
It was nil-nil going into the break, but it felt like there were definitely goals to be had in this match!
As the second half got underway, the Union made a change at striker. They took off Sergio Santos and replaced him with Cory Burke. Sergio’s speed was an asset in the first half; however, he was asked to play more as a hold-up striker, and he was getting beat up. It was said to be a concussion substitute which is an extra substitute MLS teams have if they have a player going through concussion protocol. The match kicked back off with the same fervent pace.
Union struggles continue
The first 15 minutes showed why the Union was struggling to get their attack going. There was a good amount of disconnect in the midfield as Fontana was misreading passes from Monteiro, Bedoya, and Flach. The homegrown picked up a yellow card recovering from one of his mistakes as well. The Union was on their heels needing to defend Atlanta’s attacks once they turned the ball over. It looked like Atlanta were Philly the way they were hitting on the counter. In the 59th minute, Atlanta was rewarded for their work.
Atlanta take the lead
An Atlanta corner was whipped into the box and both teams went up to meet it. Unfortunately, Kacper Przybylko tried to clear the ball but misread it. He deflected the ball past Andre Blake and into his own net giving Atlanta the 1-0 lead. This was a harsh way to concede, but it was deserved for Atlanta who looked the better team to start the second half. The next 20 minutes was a continuation of the chippy play, and the Union struggling on offense.
Atlanta kept applying the pressure until they found a second goal. This time they had a corner that was cleared out but was shortly reworked into a second cross. Anton Walkes rose to meet the cross and placed it into the Union’s net. It was 2-0 Atlanta at the 83rd-minute mark. This should have put the match to bed, but the Union continued to fight and go more direct toward the Atlanta goal.
Philly spark and outrageous comeback
Right after conceding the second goal, Philly sprung to life. They created a great attacking sequence as Falch found Wagner on the left wing. Wagner played the ball into the middle of the park to Monteiro. He had a blast that was stopped and then spilled by Guzan. The ball was sitting inside the six-yard box for anyone to claim. Cory Burke was the first one to it, and he rocketed a shot into the Atlanta net. Just like that, Philly was back into the game with six minutes plus stoppage time to go!
Comeback complete in stoppage time thanks to wonder strike from Glesnes
As the match entered the final minutes, Union centerback Jakob Glesnes was allowed to move further up the pitch. There were a few moments where he looked like the Union’s number 10 the way he’d run at defenders and look for passing lanes. It wasn’t until the 90+3 minute where that would be very helpful.
Glesness found the ball in acres of space between the halfway line and Atlanta’s 18-yard box. He was invited to move forward, which was a big mistake on Atlanta’s part. He moved up to the point where he was about 35-yards away from goal. This position should be described as Glesnes range as he was gearing up for a shot. He has hit that position before. Most notably last year at LAFC from a freekick. This time though the ball was moving. That didn’t matter. He rocketed a shot past Brad Guzan hitting the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced over the goal line and then back up to the crossbar two more times! The rocket of an effort tied the match!
The match ended shortly after to the chagrin of a stunned Atlanta crowd. It was the true definition of a comeback smash and grab on the road for Philly. It will feel like a win for them as they were able to rally and come back to get a point in a truly hostile environment!
Three takeaways from this Philadelphia Union Comeback
This match ended in a thrilling fashion! Here are three takeaways the Union has from their first match in three weeks!
1. huge point on the road
It’s always important to get results on the road. Jim Curtin mentioned in his postgame press conference that this type of result does wonders for the team’s confidence. They now know that they are never truly out of a game, especially on the road.
This will feel like more than one point given the circumstances. Now Philly has to have a short memory as they have a match at home on Wednesday to get ready for!
2. Theres still plenty of work to be done
This was anything but a clean performance from Philly. There are some major question marks still surrounding the attack. Gazdag is supposed to be the number 10 Philly needs, but he’s out for at least two-three weeks because of a knee injury. It’s clear Anthony Fontana is better as a second striker as opposed to the number 10, could we see this as his role moving forward, or will he be given more chances in that creative role?
No matter what happens the Union is going to be competitive because of their spirit and team culture, but they need to have someone step up as a true goalscoring threat game-in and game-out.
3. Down but never out
This team has heart and is truly never out of a game. It is amazing to see how this has happened over the last few years. The identity that Ernst tanner and Jim Curtin have instilled in this side is remarkable. The Union knows they can always get back into a game. The real trick will be not getting into these holes moving forward
The focus now shifts to the next game, as matches are coming fast and furiously after the international break! Can Philly come home and be even better vs Columbus on Wednesday. You’d have to think so given this result!
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Mandatory Credit: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire