Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union at Atlanta United

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (9th place, 36 points, 9-12-9) at Atlanta United (3rd place, 49 points, 14-8-7)
What: 2017 regular season
Where: Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
When: Wednesday, September 27 at 7:00 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live
Whistle: REF Mark Geiger, AR1 C.J. Morgante, AR2 Matthew Nelson, 4TH Geoff Gamble, VAR Katja Koroleva

There’s an excellent episode of Modern Family that’s a lot like the Union season right now. At the beginning of the show, the main characters (a husband and wife, Phil and Claire) are engaged in an argument but Phil has no idea why. It turns out that Claire, having known her husband and his tastes for the entirety of their marriage and courtship, had been recommending wedge salads to him for years to no avail. Then, a random person recommends the same thing to him, he tries it immediately and loves it. He then comes home giddy, proceeding to tell her how amazing it was.

Replacing Phil with the Philadelphia Union, Claire with the collective knowledge of Union fans, and the wedge salad with anything that’s isn’t a 4-2-3-1, you have Season 2, Episode 16: “Regrets Only.”

Try the 4-1-4-1, Jim. You’ll like it!

Scouting report: Atlanta United

MLS expansion has taken two distinct forms since the league bottomed out in 2002. There were geographically obvious places for the league to go where ownership groups were formed but could not match their fan’s support with their own investments (Toronto 1.0 in 2005 and the Union in 2010 are good examples). On the other side, there were established fan bases that were passionate, present, and reliable, and could be counted on to be a foundation for a long term professional franchise investment (see: Seattle in 2009 and Portland in 2011).

Generally speaking, the narrative around southern expansion in MLS circles was negative – Atlanta seemed more like a geographical play than one tailored to a fan base. Instead, even before this season started, it was clear United was doing something special. As the year has gone on, that “something special” has grown into something that is truly changing the narrative for what it means to be competitive in American soccer.

Nearing the end of their first season, one that will likely result in a playoff birth, there is no question about the value of Atlanta, its fans, or its impact on the quality of the league.

The Five Stripes have opened their jewel of a new stadium with three wins and a draw, outscoring their opponents 19-3 in the process and setting an MLS all-time attendance record. Though they will be missing one of their Designated Players, Miguel Almiron, to a hamstring injury for several weeks, the remainder of their squad and their absolutely undeniable home field advantage will be a huge factor in this match and the remainder of their season.

The last trip this team took away from Atlanta was their 2-2 come-from-behind draw against the Union, a match which was heart-wrenching enough on so many dimensions that it deserves no additional space on this page today. Thus, United are a somewhat known quantity for the Boys in Blue: they play a 4-2-3-1 and are devastatingly quick to pounce on space and goals, but can be slow when dispossessed to get their shape back, and thus can be caught napping. The Union scored two goals off of bad clearances last time out, so that’s something they will try and capitalize on again.

  • Injury report: OUT: GK Alec Kann (quad), OUT M Miguel Almiron (hamstring), QUE D Greg Garza (hamstring)
  • Suspensions: None.

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Warren Creavalle is the $20 bill that you left in those slacks you wore to your cousin’s wedding in April, but forgot you had when you changed out of them before soccer practice so they were folded nicely in the bag you left in your trunk the whole summer. Then, when your car was so messy that you just couldn’t stand it anymore, you cleaned out your trunk, remembered that your bag was in there, and opened it up to find your slacks and that crisp Andrew Jackson.

Jim Curtin found himself a $20 bill he forgot he had and seems intent on splurging. That those splurges don’t align with his long term vision might be irrelevant: his team has less than a 1.0% chance of making the playoffs. (Princeton professor Sam Wang is famous for his >99% prediction that ended up being wrong, so there’s still a chance, as well as a likelihood of obligatory GIF.)

The Union will call the formation they come out in on Wednesday night a 4-2-3-1 because that’s what they do. If Creavalle is in the lineup, it will look more like a 4-1-4-1. Regardless, expect few changes from the team that beat Chicago over the weekend, if any.

  • Injury report: OUT D Ken Tribbett (Achilles), QUE: M Fabian Herbers (hernia), D Josh Yaro (knee): M Maurice Edu (left ankle/left tibia surgery recovery), M Ilsinho (Achilles), D Aaron Jones (abs)
  • Suspension: None.

Player to watch: C.J. Sapong

C.J. Sapong scored his 14th goal of the season over the weekend on an inch-perfect near post run and flick into the Chicago Fire net. The perennially undervalued and underappreciated (and occasionally underachieving) Union forward has simply gone out this season, one in which he’s received little to no reliable service and in which he’s received little to no reliable help in scoring goals, and tied the team’s all-time goals record. Perhaps more impressive for Sapong is that expansion darling, Josef Martinez, sits only three goals ahead of him in the Golden Boot race.

Sapong’s play has made Jay Simpson another expensive Union footnote and completely exposed his less hard-working teammates. Just imagine, for a moment, a multiverse where Roland Alberg has C.J. Sapong’s work rate? Alas…

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 1-3 Atlanta United

In their last twelve combined matches, these teams have only one loss between them (the Union’s 3-0 thumping at Toronto). However, the Union have accumulated 7 points over that stretch, Atlanta have 14. Right now, United are better and it will show.

Like Ludacris once said:

…I split ya spleen, as a matter of fact I split ya team /  No blood on the sneaks, gotta keep it so my kicks is clean…

Indeed, Luda. Indeed.


  1. I love the way this preview was written. Well Done!

  2. Nice preview. What’s funny is I read “that crisp Andrew Jackson” as Andrew Jacobson.

  3. Chris Gibbons says:

    Thank you both, I truly appreciate it.

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