Match Recap: Union erases 2-goal deficit in Atlanta to remain only unbeaten team in Major League Soccer

Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Resilient – It’s the one word that truly describes this Philadelphia Union team 7 games into the 2024 season. Just when you think things are going astray for the Blue & Gold, they’ve shown time and time again their ability to dig themselves out of a hole, and Sunday afternoon in Atlanta was no different.

Down 2-0, the starting keeper off injured, and their backs against the wall – DOOP fought back with 2 goals in 5 minutes from Mikael Uhre and Kai Wagner to flip the game on its head. The draw keeps Union as the only unbeaten team in Major League Soccer, and the only team to go to Atlanta and come away with points this season – but they were probably unlucky not to walk away from Atlanta with a win and as the lead in the Supporters Shield race.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

Jim Curtin went back to the 4-4-2 Diamond formation after shifting to a 5-3-2 against Nashville last weekend. Andre Blake returned to the lineup after going through concussion protocol, and Ale Bedoya made his 2nd start of the season. Damion Lowe got the nod over Jack Elliott in the backline, and Mikael Uhre started the game on the bench. Here’s how the team lined up in Atlanta:

GK: Andre Blake
RB: Nathan Harriel, CB: Jakob Glesnes, CB: Damion Lowe, LB: Kai Wagner
CDM: Jose Martinez
RCM: Ale Bedoya, LCM: Jack McGlynn
CAM: Daniel Gazdag
ST: Quinn Sullivan, ST: Julian Carranza

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Neither team finds a first-half breakthrough

Union got a few looks at the net early in the game, most of which came from the foot of Left Back Kai Wagner, who had a team-high 9 crosses. In the 31st minute, Union got their best chance of the first half on a counterattack where Union moved the ball from the middle of the pitch out to Quinn Sullivan on the right-hand side and again to the overlapping run from Ale Bedoya in the box.

Bedoya squared the ball to Julian Carranza at the top of the 6-yard box, but his one-time attempt on a wide-open net was blocked. Quinn Sullivan was able to get off a shot on the rebound, but his attempt was blocked as well. Kai Wagner eventually whipped in a ball from the left side after Union recycled Sullivan’s blocked shot, but Bedoya’s header on Wagner’s cross was directly at Goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Almada’s chances, Blake’s departure

Atlanta’s Thiago Almada found himself with a few opportunities to break the deadlock late in the first half. The first of which came in the the 36th minute when Almada let a shot fly from about 25 yards out and through traffic, but the attempt was right at Andre Blake who made the save without a rebound.

Almada’s second chance came with a bit more threat and even though he couldn’t find the back of the net – the opportunity would have an impact on Union’s defensive stability. In the 44th minute, Almada danced around several legs in the penalty area and ripped a right-footed shot which Blake once again made an easy save, but came up laboring after the play.

I’m unsure if the injury came on the save attempt or if it was the result of something less conspicuous early on, but Andre was struggling enough that he needed to come out of the game. Oliver Semmle came on in his replacement – Semmle’s 7th appearance in 11 games across all competitions for Union so far. What an addition Semmle has been to this team, but Andre Blake’s health continues to be in question.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Daniel Rios scores against Union – AGAIN!

In the 55th minute of the game, Atlanta was finally able to break the deadlock and get their goal at home. Thiago Almada whipped a dangerous cross into the box from Oliver Semmle’s left side, which was gracefully headed home by Union Killer, Daniel Rios. Of the 13 goals Rios has scored in his MLS career, 5 of those have come against Union – 4 of which came in the same game, a 4-0 loss to Charlotte that essentially handed LAFC the 2022 Supporters Shield and the opportunity to host MLS Cup.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Caleb Wiley’s stunner doubles Atlanta’s lead

Things opened up for Atlanta after the opening goal, and Thiago Almada was finding another gear that we haven’t quite seen yet this season. He almost found a second goal on a give-and-go with Saba Lobzhanidze but the attempt at the near-post was blocked off by Semmle.

In the 63rd minute, a tackle from Damion Lowe at the top of the box left a loose ball sitting for young Atlanta Left Back, Caleb Wiley. Wiley stepped up to the ball, took a touch to set himself up for a shot, and let a left-footed attempt fly from about 25 yards. The shot took a skidding bounce off the Mercedes Benz Stadium turf and found the bottom left corner of the net to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Uhre strikes to get Union back in the game

With a 2-0 lead and Atlanta growing into the game and searching for a 3rd goal, it started to look like Union’s unbeaten streak was coming to an end. But in the 73rd minute, Union was thrown a lifeline when Atlanta’s Edwin Mosquera sent an errant pass back to his defense, which sent Mikael Uhre in alone against Brad Guzan.

Uhre made no mistake with the opportunity, beating Guzan to the near post with the type of finish that Union fans have been waiting a year and a half for the Danish striker to produce. If Mikael Uhre can be THAT type of striker consistently, this Union team could find another level to their ceiling.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Kai Wagner levels the game 4 minutes later

The goal from Mikael Uhre flipped this game on its head and completely restored faith in a Union team that’s shown resiliency time and time again this season. Just 4 minutes after Uhre’s goal, Nate Harriel sent a long throw into the box which was headed by an Atlanta defender.

The headed ball came out to the top of the penalty area where Kai Wagner was able to run on and hit a one-time attempt with his weaker right foot. The shot looped over the defense and passed the diving hand of Brad Guzan, finding the side netting and erasing a 2nd half-2-goal deficit on the road.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Uhre’s winner waved off

Down 2-0 in the second half, Union scored 2 goals in 5 minutes at Mercedes Benz Stadium, a venue in which Atlanta has conceded just 1 goal up until that point. But Union weren’t satisfied with just 1 point on the road and thought they found the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute – just 6 minutes after Uhre’s opening goal.

Quinn Sullivan and Daniel Gazdag connected up the right side of the field to draw Atlanta’s defense out of position. Sullivan received the ball inside the penalty area and squared the ball to Mikael Uhre 8 yards out. Uhre one-timed the ball and beat Guzan to give Union the lead late in the game, but the flag was raised and Uhre was determined off-side. A hard-fought comeback to become the first team to earn points in Atlanta this season, but no late game-winner on Sunday afternoon. A 2-2 draw down in Atlanta.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Kneejerk Reactions

  • Still Unbeaten

    Thanks to 2 goals in 4 minutes from Mikael Uhre and Kai Wagner, Union remains the only unbeaten team in Major League Soccer. It’s a draw that probably feels bigger than just 1 point, being the first team in MLS to earn points on the road in Atlanta this season, and doing so after falling to a 2nd half 2 goal deficit.

    The draw brings Union’s record of 3W-0L-4D for a total of 13 points, good enough to currently sit at 3rd in the Eastern Conference, and 2 points behind the Supporters Shield lead with a game (or 2) in hand.
  • Resiliency

    Once again, Union shows their never-say-die mentality and earns points from a losing position. That’s 4 of 6 games in MLS in which Union have completed a comeback – 7 of 13 points earned from a losing position. It’d be awesome if this group could put a full 90-minute performance together, but you just can’t count this team out – and that’s the sign of a strong team early in the season.

    13 points in 7 games – 5 of which have come on the road, all while competing in CCC early in the season – is a strong start to the 2024 campaign and something Union can build the rest of their season on
  • Andre Blake

    Andre Blake goes off injured once again this season, and this time it appears to be that groin issue that’s caused Blake to miss game time before. In 11 games across all competition for Union this season, Andre Blake has played a full 90 minutes just 4 times.

    Oliver Semmle has been great in his absence – and has been called upon more often than any of us would like this early in the season – but my biggest fear is that Andre Blake needs surgery to fully repair this issue that he’s dealing with. Thank God Ernst Tanner went out and got someone like Oli Semmle to be Union’s backup. Could you imagine where Union’s record would be with Joe Bendik as Andre’s backup?
  • Mikael Uhre

    Whether Mikael Uhre starting on the bench was a decision based on fitness or form is irrelevant – the important thing is Uhre takes his opportunities when they come to him, and his finish on Sunday afternoon was exactly the reason Ernst Tanner paid the money he did for the Danish striker.

    Uhre’s finish on the waved-off 3rd goal shows he’s starting to find confidence, and I feel like we still don’t know exactly the type of player he can be if he can reach his top form. Great signs from Uhre heading back to Subaru Park.
Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Looking Forward

Union has a rare bye next week. Their next game is in 13 days as they return home to Subaru Park to take on Real Salt Lake! The week off will allow the squad more time for rest and recovery, and the ability to have an extra week of training to get ready for their next match. One would hope that this week will determine to what extent Andre Blake’s injury is looking like. Jim Curtin will love the extra time with his team at home to help hone his team’s skills.

The off week will also allow many teams in MLS to progress in their schedule giving Philly more than a game in hand on the rest of the competition. That could come in handy as the year progresses while the Union pushes for greatness yet again! Next match: Union vs Real Salt Lake; Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 pm EST!

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union