Union match reports

Match report: Atlanta United FC 3-0 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Making their first trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, Philadelphia Union were outclassed by a dominant Atlanta United FC. First half goals from midfielder Julian Gressel and forward Josef Martinez all but sealed the match before a late counterattacking goal from substitute Jacob Peterson secured the 3-0 scoreline for the home club.

It was a disappointing performance from the Union, proving the organization — in its eighth season — has miles to go to equal a first-year expansion side.

Atlanta, losers of just one since June 25, continued their blazing form and are 9-1-4 in their last 14 games.

Following Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Chicago Fire, Union head coach Jim Curtin made only one change to his starting 11. Veteran Oguchi Onyewu got the start at center back ahead of Richie Marquez.

A hamstring injury against Montreal kept talismanic No 10 Miguel Almiron out of Atlanta’s lineup Wednesday night. In his stead, Tata Martino tabbed rookie of the year favorite Gressel to fill the void at the tip of his midfield triangle in front of Carlos Carmona and ex-Union man Kevin Kratz, who pushed Jeff Larentowicz to center back.

The Five Stripes opened the game at full throttle as the Union sat deep, and it didn’t take long for Atlanta to generate their first chance. A bad turnover from left back Fabinho following a free kick turned into a dangerous United counter in the seventh minute. Gressel quickly played a long pass to the dangerous Martinez, who found himself isolated with Jack Elliott. The rookie defender did just enough, giving goalkeeper Andre Blake time to come off his line and make the first of many saves.

Blake was again called upon in the 13th minute. Left winger Yamil Asad unleashed an absolute rocket that looked destined for the top right corner from about 28 yards, but Blake dove at full extension and made the acrobatic stop.

The Jamaican goalkeeper did his best to keep the Union in the game early, but he couldn’t stem the tide forever.

United finally broke through in the 27th minute. Center back Leandro González Pirez’s incisive pass from just inside the Union half found Gressel. His deft first touch put him past Onyewu, and the German shrugged off a Warren Creavalle challenge as he drove into the box. The finish favored placement over power, as Gressel rolled his shot the far post as Blake dove helplessly to his left.

It only took another six minutes for Atlanta to double their advantage. From an almost identical spot as Gressel’s opener, Martinez blasted his 18th goal of season to Blake’s left. The danger started when Gressel played a brilliant ball into the striker, aided by a wonderful dummy from Kratz, who let the ball run on to Martinez. It was just enough to freeze the Union backline and the Venezuelan marksman had all the space he needed to nab his 18th of the season.

When referee Mark Geiger blew the halftime whistle, the Union were left without a shot on goal and only 32% of the possession.

With a two-goal advantage, Atlanta played their game in the second half. The home side allowed the Union to push forward in search of a foothold but prevented real chances from developing. From there, United were able to launch counter after dangerous counter.

Atlanta thought they had their third after an Alejandro Bedoya turnover in the center circle. Right winger Hector Villalba played Martinez through the backline and the striker pulled Blake well out of net. With composure, Martinez played the ball back to Villalba. The 5-6 winger coolly sand-wedged his shot over the 6-5 frame of Elliott and into the far netting. As the stadium celebrated, video-assisted replay came to the Union’s rescue. The goal was overturned, rightly ruling Martinez was just offside on the initial pass.

Two Union chances sandwiched that disallowed goal. Winger Fafà Picault recorded the Philly’s first shot on goal after a solid turn and pass into space from C.J. Sapong, but goalkeeper Brad Guzan had the angle covered.

Then Fabinho found space and drove goalward in the 58th minute. From just inside the box, the Brazilian tried a rare right-footed curler, but it was always going wide.

Atlanta did get a third goal — one that counted — in the 88th minute. It seemed to come from nothing, as the ball worked its way to Villalba just inside United’s half. Peterson, who was subbed on for Gressel, made a run and blew straight past Fabinho. The defender couldn’t catch up, and Peterson was alone with Blake. The substitute rounded the keeper and deposited the ball into the back of the net.

Maybe it wouldn’t have spoiled the party, but the Union almost stole a goal on the final kick of the game. Atlanta relaxed and failed to mark Elliott on a corner in stoppage time. His right-footed volley looked bound for goal, but Guzan was determined to keep his clean sheet with a diving save.

Next up for Philadelphia is Seattle this weekend.

The Union could still mathematically make the playoffs. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium.

Three Points
  • Curtin call: The coach’s conservative approach to the opening half of play never gave the team a chance to win. Atlanta is the hottest offensive team in MLS, and the Union haven’t shown they have the defensive fortitude to hold without breaking. United were always going to score first with that approach.
  • Rookie of the year: Sorry Jack, but you are not MLS’s best rookie. That honor belongs to Julian Gressel. He wasn’t just “serviceable” filling in for Almiron. He was the best player on the field.
  • Playoffs: There’s still hope! D.C. United’s 3-3 draw with New York Red Bulls prevented the Union from being mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake; Fabinho, Oguchi Onyewu, Jack Elliott, Keegan Rosenberry (Raymon Gaddis 78′); Warren Creavalle (Roland Alberg 70′); Fafá Picault, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Pontius (Marcus Epps 70′); C.J. Sapong
Unused Subs: John McCarthy, Richie Marquez, Charlie Davies, Jay Simpson

Atlanta United FC

Brad Guzan; Chris McCann, Leandro González Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz, Anton Walkes; Kevin Kratz, Carlos Carmona; Yamil Asad (Greg Garza 68′), Julian Gressel (Jacob Peterson 87′), Hector Villalba; Josef Martinez (Kenwyne Jones 82′)
Unused subs:Kyle Reynish, Tyrone Mears, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Brandon Vázquez,

Scoring summary

ATL: Julian Gressel – 27′ (Leandro González Pirez)
ATL: Josef Martinez – 33′ (Julian Gressel)
ATL: Jacob Peterson – 88′ (Héctor Villalba)

Disciplinary summary

ATL: Josef Martinez – 67′ (unsporting behavior)

Atlanta United FC Philadelphia Union
16 Shots 10
10 Shots on Target 3
4 Shots off Target 5
2 Blocked Shots 2
6 Corner Kicks 3
10 Crosses 10
2 Offsides 1
7 Fouls 9
1 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
584 Total Passes 393
85% Passing Accuracy 78%
59.7% Possession 40.3%
51 Duels Won 42
55% Duels Won % 45%
13 Tackles Won 13
3 Saves 7
5 Clearances 13


  1. This goes out to the sales reps trying to get people to Re-DOOP, or even better, sign up for season tickets in 2018. God bless you all, you are the real heroes.

    At STH town hall, Earnie said Union ‘weren’t too far behind’ Atlanta. Without Blake in goal, and some poor finishing in the final third, this should have been 6 or 7 – 0. Did we mention that this time in 2016 Atlanta DID NOT EXIST?

    And I’m so glad we played the veterans Onyewu and Crevalle tonight. They did so well on the first Atlanta goal. Jones/Trusty/Marquez would have been so outclassed.

  2. I was reminded of a little known album entitled “I Predict 1990.” The lyrics from one of its songs seem to describe the growing apathy among once ardent fans:
    “Life unwinds like a cheap sweater
    But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
    And the truth gets blurred like a wet letter
    But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
    While the world winds down to a final prayer
    Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
    I predict by dinner I won’t even care
    Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better”

    • Exactly.
      If I hadn’t already given up on anything good coming out of this season, I would care more when they play like a passive bunch like last night. I watched the first 15 minutes, and then I just turned it off. Once again, Blake was going to be the only highlight……

  3. Creavalle was fine he’s actually great for this team. Needs to start. The rest of them? Who gives a shit. Anyone know where the fuck Is Derrick Jones at and his status ?????????

  4. On another note, this team wants to be known as a counter attackig team. They try to counter attack 24/7 and they suck at it. Any team would if their philosophy is to counter attack and forget about the other elements like possession and movement. They’ve been playing this way for years ! My god! Has Curtin ever watched a European match ???? The first priority for this team and any team is POSSESSION !! Another factor that goes hand and hand is MOVEMENT!! It seems this team or FO could care less about these factors hence why they suck so bad. It also has to do with poor management. Curtin is clueless when it comes to utilizing his players and knowing them. For example , Derrick Jones should be playing every game and starting. He’s the best D mid that the union has had in a long time. He’s the future at that position. Creavalle deserves a spot on the front line as well. Keep Pecault , ilsinho , Yaro and maybe some others then revamp the rest of the team. Like clear house. Sell Blake , and of course get Curtin the fuck outta here. You can even toss Albright and Stewart too. This team needs a huge change.

  5. I walked down to the exit tunnel at Mercedes Benz and Curtin caught my glare. He was all alone and half-heartedly applauded. I should’ve thrown a shoe at him.
    There was little to be proud of. As nagjs points out, this could’ve been much worse.
    Was the trip worth it? Sure. The stadium is gorgeous. Seriously, the best sport arena I’ve been to in the country. Great views, the 360° screen is present but not intrusive. I rarely looked up at it during live play. It’s incredibly loud. We stood almost the whole match. By we I mean the whole stadium. Food prices are intentionally low. Simply the crown jewel of MLS and arguably a world contender.
    Was it worth it to see the union? Bahahahahaha
    After the match, the stadium honored Arthur Blank on his birthday. The stadium sung happy birthday while he partied in the supporters section. “WE LOVE YOU ARTHUR” “THANK YOU ARTHUR” on all screens. Genuine and touching moment.

    Anyone know when Sugarman’s birthday is? Anyone give a flying f?

    Final note: Atlanta, a team that didn’t exist last year, clinched playoff spot tonight with a full head of steam and weak opponents ahead.

  6. Right up the middle, right down our throats. Tata and the ATL boys are simply better. I wonder if Sugarman watched.
    Edit: How about that one tackle Fabino had at the top of 18? That was a thing of beauty. So Fabinho.

  7. Section 114 (former) says:


  8. We talk a lot on here about getting players in the offseason. I hope it happens. It needs to happen. I haven’t renewed my tickets for next season because I’m waiting to see if it happens. My question is this. If we get talented players in here and have a roster equivalent to ATL United, are we a 3rd place team if Jim Curtin is the coach?

  9. First half of the ATL game was embarrassing. The nervousness, sloppiness and overall lack of heart was too much. That’s on coach.

    Jim is a classy guy. Imo, he will/should resign on his own at the end of the season. Otherwise, my respect for his gentlemanly manners will be replaced by frustration at his ignorance.

    Money is NOT the problem for Union. We did NOT spend significantly less compared to other teams. We did choose poorly. And that is on ES. So, really, that should be the second change.

    Unfortunately, that would imply rebuilding of the team essentially from scratch. That doesn’t bode well for 2018.

    I chose not to renew for now and wait for off season.

    • We spend poorly, have bad luck with injuries (Edu), and don’t spend enough. Literally the only players we are spending money on that is not league money is Bedoya and Edu (and Edu is a low level DP). There is no reason a team from Philadelphia should not have 3 DPs at or above Bedoya’s level.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with you Gary. It’s not the money that’s the problem. It’s the piss-poor use of the $. That doesn’t absolve Sugarman from spending $ to hire a real coach. And it doesn’t mean we’ll ever compete with the LAs (both) and Atlantas of MLS who can sign 3 multimillion dollar DP’s. But the structure of MLS is designed so that owners of limited means can compete and there are not out-of-control increases in the cost of building a competitive roster. The Union have failed within this ecosystem. Let Stewart go. He’s not the savior and he can go ruin the USMNT in his dream job for all I care. And for the love of god get rid of Curtin.

    • Ben, let me list the guaranteed compensation for Atlanta’s 3 DP’s

      Almiron $ 2,297,000
      Martinez $ 1,041,310
      Villalba $ 770,750

      Total salaries between the 2 teams is about $1.5 million but Atlanta was smart and spent money on young OFFENSIVE players with an OFFENSE minded coach and then filled in the rest of the spots with solid veterans at fair prices and a couple of youngsters. Atlanta United is basically the blueprint of how you fill a roster in MLS without paying someone 4, 5 or 6 million dollars.

      • I mean the transfer fee for Almiron was $8 mil and Martinez’s was undisclosed.

        Atlanta have spent bigger than most, even though it doesn’t show up in their cap numbers.

      • I didn’t think about the one time transfer fee but I expect ATL to get a very handsome return on both of those guys. I think Martinez transfer fee was around 5 or 6 million. The only thing that stinks is MLS takes 1/3 of the transfer money if they are transferred to a club outside of MLS. That’s way too much IMO.

  11. Out-classed, out of the playoffs, and coach still has them playing back in the first half. Can someone tell me why? I equate Curtain to Dr Zeus from Planet of the Apes. I want to ask him, “You’re afraid of something Jim! What are you afraid of?!!!”

  12. I’m not a Curtin hater, but he needs to go.the team has been in a funk since last season. The one consistent thing,is the inconsistency! I am not a soccer guru. But this team has not passed the eye test in a while. Thats on the coach!

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