Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Atlanta United

Who: Philadelphia Union (9th place, 30 points, 8-6-12) vs. Atlanta United (7th place, 35 points, 10-5-8)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, Pa.
When: Saturday, August 26 at 7 pm
Watch: CSN Philly, MLS Live, Direct Kick
Whistle: REF: Drew Fischer, AR1: Phil Briere, AR2: Gianni Facchini, 4TH: Sorin Stoica, VAR: Jair Marrufo

Before Wednesday night’s debacle in Toronto, Saturday’s upcoming home match against Atlanta United seemed like a must win for Philadelphia Union. Now, it almost seems like a formality.

With just eight matches left in the regular season, the Union are six points back of Montreal, which currently sits in the sixth and final playoff spot, and with a goal differential of -2, winning a tiebreaker is unlikely. It’ll take a long winning streak to make the playoffs, and it needs to start now.

The good news is Philadelphia is back at the friendly confines of Talen Energy Stadium, where it has won four of the last five. The bad news is a very unfamiliar and offensively potent squad is visiting.

Scouting report: Atlanta United

Atlanta has been fairly consistent in its first full season in Major League Soccer, not winning or losing more than two matches in a row from the opener on March 5 to a disappointing second loss to D.C. United on June 21. Since then, though, the form has really picked up. Before a third loss to D.C. on Wednesday night, Atlanta was riding a six-game unbeaten streak in the league and hadn’t lost a match since being upset by Miami FC in the US Open Cup on June 28. It’s managed just two goals in the past three fixtures, but Atlanta’s bread and butter is in the final third.

The Five Stripes have scored 42 goals in MLS this season, more than all but two clubs (Portland and Houston) and eight more than Philadelphia. The home side will need to shut down a few different players, as the offensive production is pretty evenly spread out. Hector Villalba leads the way with 10 goals, while Josef Martinez has nine and Miguel Almiron six. Next to Almiron in an attacking midfielder role sits Yamil Asad, who is tied for third in the league with eight assists.

If that sounds like reason to be concerned, it probably is. Villalba and company have been shut out just twice since the end of March and managed four straight results without Martinez up front (thigh injury) before this week. Atlanta has three players out injured right now, including forward Kenwyne Jones, but the players on the pitch Saturday will be relatively well rested with a two-week break before the D.C. United match. Martinez started on Wednesday and should be fit for the match.

Expect the visitors to line up in an attacking-based 4-3-3 with Almiron sitting in behind the forwards. Theoretically, that would open up some space for the Union in the midfield, but Atlanta leads the league in possession at over 57 percent, so maybe it won’t. They’ve managed to keep most of the ball and score a bunch of goals while conceding only 30.

Atlanta’s respectable 4-6-4 road record spells a challenge for the Union.

  • Injury report: (OUT) – GK Alec Kann; (QUEST) — D Mark Bloom (lower back), F Kenwyne Jones (knee inflammation).
  • Suspensions: None
  • International duty: F Andrew Carlton
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The Union have never seen Atlanta and Atlanta have never seen the Union. In a first time meeting like this, don’t expect coach Jim Curtin to deviate from his go-to lineup much. Lately, that’s been Haris Medujnanin and Alejandro Bedoya roaming the central midfield with Fabrice Picault and Chris Pontius out wide. Ilsinho was nestled behind C.J. Sapong for the Toronto match, but because of short rest, we may also see Roland Alberg in that role.

Then again, three 3-0 losses in the past five weeks is alarming. There isn’t much left to lose, so maybe Curtin will switch some things up?

In what very well could be a wide-open match, Philadelphia will probably need to use the width of the pitch and send Sapong running through the back line. With his pace, Marcus Epps may be a better fit than Pontius on the hash. Throw numbers forward and go for goals because, frankly, time is almost up. The chances have been there the past couple weeks, but the goals haven’t always been along for the ride.

Defensively, center backs Jack Elliott and Oguchi Onyewu will have their hands full and Wednesday was a pretty rough time. Atlanta doesn’t have a player with supreme individual quality like Sebastian Giovinco, but it has a few real threats. Ray Gaddis and Giliano Wijnaldum will be under pressure on the outside because they’re always under pressure on the outside and inevitably, Andre Blake will have to make some key saves. He is back in goal and that’s great news, but who knows where is confidence is right now after a 3-0 drubbing in his first appearance since the Gold Cup.

Now would be a great time for Bedoya to do… something. Anything. Now would be a great time for Pontius to score a goal. Remember when that happened a lot last season? Now would be a good time for the Union to show the fans that they have something left in the tank. It sure doesn’t look like it right now.

  • Injury report: (OUT) — F Fabian Herbers (sports hernia surgery recovery); (QUEST) — M Maurice Edu (left ankle/tibia surgery recovery), GK John McCarthy (right knee contusion), M Ilsinho (right adductor strain), D Oguchi Onyewu (left groin strain).
  • Suspensions: None

Key matchup: Atlanta’s attack vs. whoever’s defending

The Union have proven they can score at home and obviously, that will need to continue on Saturday. But Atlanta has proven it can score anywhere, and preventing goals will be more important than scoring them. Elliott has been reliable in the back, and the goalkeeping has been strong. It’s up to everyone else to absorb some pressure and contain a sharp offense at home.

Prediction: Philadelphia wins 2-1.

There’s a lot to be said about desperation. Atlanta scores goals at a high rate, but things have really cooled off the past few matches. The Union are even colder over that span, but the home pitch has meant something this season. Another loss could snowball and drive the fans away until next year. This one will be worth watching.


  1. “Like every match, don’t expect coach Jim Curtin to deviate from his go-to lineup or tactics much.”

    Fixed it for you.

    Why mess with success?

  2. You can tell where the Union stand in the league’s eyes when they get the expansion club for Rivalry Week.

  3. Atlanta is fun MLS club to watch……..they try to play football.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Welcome to a new voice, Christian Sandler.

  5. When your own fans going to the game to watch opposite team playing fun soccer…

  6. I know it’s a foolish dog that barks at a flying bird, but I still am going to say again what many of us have been saying all year.
    Since they have refused to bring in the players to compete in their precious 4-2-3-1 formation, they need to adjust the formation to optimize the players they have. Burke is doing it. Does he have more authority than Curtin?
    As has been said, if we went 3-5-2, Medujnanin could push up next to Ilson with Bedoya further back as “destroyer” in inverse triangle. This would give us more creativity higher up the field. In The back Gooch could play center with two great passers Elliott and Yaro on either side of him. You could get Rosenberry back on the field on right wingback with less defensive pressure and winaldum on the other wing. Plus Fafa gets pushed up top to stretch the D, playing next to CJ with his excellent hold up play.
    It’s really not rocket science. Pontius is not the future, nor alberg nor Gaddis. Epps is a great sub but not ready to start.

  7. Desacrate through Reverance says:

    Atlanta has a better academy too. Gosling, Carlton, Kunga, to name a few. Atlanta will consistently be above Union in the years to come. Not saying Union need to pay 5+ mil transfers, but Atlanta are doing it right. Expect new expansion teams to follow the Atlanta model.

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