Union match reports

Match report: Philadelphia Union 0-2 Atlanta United

Photo: Earl Gardner

It was again a tale of missed chances for the Philadelphia Union as they fell to Atlanta United 2-0 on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Midfielder Haris Medunjanin made his return to the lineup for the first time since he was sent off June 2 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while Borek Dockal was back at the tip of the midfield following the birth of his child, marking the only significant changes to Philadelphia’s starting 11.

The Union were eager to start on the front foot and avenge last month’s rowdy nine-man loss to Atlanta, finding space down the wings through Fafa Picault on the left and Keegan Rosenberry overlaps down the right. The tactical chess match between the clubs was nearly identical to the June 2nd duel, with the Union possessing much of the ball and Atlanta looking to create turnovers and slalom down the field with speed.

Atlanta absorbed the pressure through the first half-hour and countered often, culminating in a diving save from Andre Blake on a hard Miguel Almiron shot in the 12th minute. The Union responded promptly with some stretching combination play of their own through Alejandro Bedoya and Picault. Philadelphia’s steady pressure earned five corners and nine shots in the first 45′ alone, but just one chance was on target.

The two sides traded spells of dominance throughout the first half, exchanging blows, but never finding the net. Atlanta nearly split the game open in the 38th minute when the club’s record signing Ezequiel Barco blew into space on a breakaway before having his cutback shot blocked by a brave slide from Rosenberry.

The Union quickly returned to controlling the pace of play once Borek Dockal began to find the ball, first with a long distance shot that forced a save from Brad Guzan, and again minutes later on the Union ‘s own counterattack. Keegan Rosenberry laid off to Dockal on a late run, but the Czech midfielder put too much English on the ball and bent it over the goal.

United nearly put a digit on the scoresheet right before half when Josef Martinez slipped into space in the box and put a shot directly into a sprawled out Andre Blake’s particulars.

Atlanta picked up right where they left off to start the second 45. A tricky flick by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez forced Blake to ground once more on the near post, but kept the game scoreless.

All night, Philadelphia struggled to truly test United’s netminder. Early in the second half, some beautiful interplay between Rosenberry, Dockal, and Ilsinho set up a solid chance from 18 yards out for Rosenberry that was easily parried away by Guzan. The waves of attack continued thanks to a terrific flick and turn by Bedoya set up Dockal with a clear cut chance on goal in the box. Dockal leaned back and hit the ball far over the goal, and the Union would fail to pry apart Atlanta’s defense for the rest of the night.

Not unlike the prior meeting just a month ago, Atlanta’s speed and savvy runs caught the Union. Against the run of play in the 57th minute, Miguel Almiron sprung open into a one-on-one with Andre Blake and turned the Jamaican outside. Blake caught Almiron’s leg and the Altanta midfielder went down in a heap. Referee Ismail Elfath signaled to the spot and striker Josef Martinez effortlessly put Atlanta up 1-0 with just over a half-hour to play.

Once Atlanta went ahead, it was for good. The Atlantans easily moved higher up the pitch as the Union’s posture dropped and they struggled to push themselves back in the game

All night, Atlanta’s wingers had continued to slip behind Philadelphia’s center backs on the near-post without finding the right angle for a chance. That changed in the 76th minute when Almiron set up Villalba for a slicing shot across the goal past Blake to put the game firmly out of reach for Philadelphia’s struggling attack.

The Union briefly tried to claw back after Atlanta went up 2-0, but never failed to  truly threaten the Atlanta goal, even as manager Jim Curtin sent out substitutes Corey Burke, David Accam, and Marcus Epps. The last ten minutes of the match felt almost scripted as Atlanta easily killed the game off to thwart off a Union side out of ideas.

Three points
  • Finishing… again. The Union were once again not without chances. Borek Dockal, Keegan Rosenberry, Alejandro Bedoya, and Ilsinho combined brilliantly down the right flank. Fafa Picault was put into space often on the opposite side of the field. And still a zero on the scoreboard. Last year the No. 10 dilemma meant the Union were want for chances. The chances are aplenty this season, but – save that June splurge – no one is finishing them (or even putting them on goal for that matter).
  • Subpar. Again, the Union subs failed to make any noticeable impact in the game – even Corey Burke (whose jog to the 4th official earned an ovation from the Sons of Ben) didn’t have much of a say over the night’s proceedings.
  • Where to go from here? The Union had a nice June streak, but have quickly returned to their catatonic spells of attack. They keep rolling out the same lineup and the same subs every game. It’s the same story as last summer (and the one before). Will something finally push the Union to pull the trigger on a summer move?

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake, Keegan Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Ray Gaddis, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, Borek Dockal, Ilsinho (Marcus Epps 83′), Fafa Picault (David Accam 77′), C.J. Sapong (Cory Burke 64′)
Unused Subs: John McCarthy, Fabinho, Jack Elliott, Warren Creavalle

Atlanta United

Brad Guzan, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar, Mikey Ambrose (Chris McCann 73′), Miguel Almiron, Julian Gressel, Ezequiel Barco (Kevin Kratz 90′ +2), Jeff Larentowicz, Hector Villalba (Brandon Vazquez 84′), Josef Martinez

Unused Subs: Sal Zizzo, Romario Williams, Andrew Carleton, Alex Kann

Scoring summary

ATL: Josef Martinez — 58′  (PK)
ATL: Hector Villalba — 76′ (Miguel Almiron)


  1. Zizouisgod says:

    It’s less about the actual losing than the repetitive nature of the losing.

    Maybe start bringing a gun to this gun fight.

    • Tim Jones says:

      A four-celled developing embryo of one possible hope for that gun had his first practice with the Bethlehem Steel last Thursday. He is fifteen so I am not going to name names.
      And a sperm cell from overseas may be swimming towards a Steel ovum in the next few weeks. The sperm cell is late in arriving.
      Keep in mind that the zygote development process takes a long time whether the species is human being, elephant, blue whale, or goal scorer and is fraught with hazard.

      • I’m going to ignore your analogy (metaphor? simile?)…


        It’s cool there’s movement on the youth development front, but what about today? You rightfully point out it takes time to develop a goal scorer. Most MLS teams agree with your assessment too – that’s why they go out and buy/trade for a proven striker.


        It’s shameful and “That’s So Union” that they finally have a 10 but no one to score. It’s almost like this ownership group is not concerned with winning…

      • Scottymac says:

        2023 STHs take note!!!

  2. I stopped supporting the club when they decided to keep Curtin, but thanks to ESPN+ I’ve been able to watch the last few matches. With a little bit of emotional detachment it is easy to place this team in their appropriate context. They’re just a midtable side without much quality. If MLS had a normal league structure it’d be more obvious. They’d be sitting around 17th, battling (most likely successfully) against relegation. As they would most years, with some nice cup runs. Instead we battle, meekly, for the playoffs most years, without the ability to do any damage when we get in.

    At this point that’s just what the Union are. I thought they played rather well today, in a “Stoke playing Chelsea” type of way. Losing 0-2 to a big team is perfectly acceptable. Look at the team sheets for the last two weeks. Do people really think the Union should be winning these matches? The last two managers the Union have faced have managed in the EPL (albeit quite poorly) and for BARCELONA (albeit quite poorly) while the Union have Jim Curtin. The Union are not going to be competing with them.

    The Union are designed to be competitive enough on the pitch that it’s a fun day out (or, for those of our out of market, a fun watch when nothing better is on). But I’m not sure why, in their ninth season, anyone expects more out of the Philadelphia Union than that.

    • Dude, I see it the same way, the “they played well in a stoke v. Chelsea type of way” line is so spot on. Maybe they can try to be Wigan and get a US open cup one time but I dont see them ever making an MLS cup run if things stay same, certainly not the way the rest of the league is now.

  3. 1) cj? still? really?
    2) ilsinho, rosenberry, and bedoya were beasts
    3) gaddis, mackenzie, and cj not so much
    4) burke wasn’t good but he actually touches the ball which puts him beyond cj. low bar for sure though. please buy a striker.
    5) it wasn’t theatrics that got atlanta that pk. blake gets his leg and he goes down. union were lucky not to lose blake. that said, ref gave a card and a pk so just get the fuck up you won.
    6) can’t help but feel like someone should have booted barco or martinez something good.

  4. Scottymac says:

    The loudest cheers were for the fireworks. They started strong but seemed to drift downstream. Lot of the early chances for ooosss and ahhhs went begging as the fireworks engineers couldn’t execute on their plan. The streak at the end culminating in the explosive finale was good enough for the barge side to earn a result at home.

  5. John Harris says:

    They had their standard midseason 4 game run and USOC run. Now back to normal. The team is designed to appreciate in value as the league tide raises all ships. No one should support this dysfunctional relationship. We’d be far better of if none of us had ever heard of Jay Sugarman.
    Please… a second open letter to Jay Sugarman. And then later do not accept anything like that press release response, non-apology from last time. The unethical lack of investment should be clear from the last few games.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Sugarman runs a real estate investment trust. He has assets but they are not liquid.
      They are likely losing a few million a year on the Steel and probably comparably losing on the academy and its schoolhouse.
      They are better off at this stage of Union 2.0 even though it has been truncated prematurely, than they ever were in Union 1.0.
      Save the bunker buster until we see how Union 3.0 is turning out.
      As a pipe dream, hire a proven program restorer who knows how to identify youth talent and develop it into a successful team. He’s the English National Team coach.
      Middlesborough thought enough of his potential to hire him as its coach before he had started earning his coaching license several years ago. He’ll be looking for something to do.

      • John Harris says:

        Or be like successful organizations and spend money. Stop making excuses.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        They are spending money. How have Jay Simpson and David Accam worked out for them? The problem isn’t Curtin, it’s Stewart. I feel bad for the USMNT and wouldn’t be surprised if they fail to qualify for Qatar. Hopefully the Union will hire a better evaluator of talent.

      • John Harris says:

        I beg of you, please stop making excuses, or stop the burner account. The Union are not spending money like they should. Accam’s transfer was allocation money not owner money. His DP money was just that of Mo Edu plus a little. Simpson cost $500k, probably allocation money. The Union don’t even pay for a third DP because it would cost $150,000 paid to the league, then the cost of the player. Ownership most certainly is not spending like the good, aspirational clubs: ATL, NYCFC, LAFC, etc.
        I am out of market and watch on ESPN+. For whatever reason I always get the other team’s feed. The other teams don’t take the Union seriously. Some are more polite than others. Some are less polite (LAFC and ATL). But uniformly Philly is looked at as a discount team not to be taken seriously. The fanbase should do the same if they haven’t already.

      • Great One says:

        I’m sorry, I get your point here, but it’s just blatantly not good enough to ask people to wait even more. Do these things to build the pipeline and such, but ALSO compete. It’s clearly doable in this league.

      • I understand that Sugarman isn’t moneybags. I’m grateful he went on a limb to start the team.

        That said, I can’t help but see a depressing irony in a REIT owner refusing further investment.

        He must have something else going on with mls. If he’s not in the black (at all or enough to imvest in a striker) and not seeking further investment, there’s got to be another avenue he’s pursuing with mls for value. What, I don’t know.

        Correct me if I’m wrong but somebody wanted to invest. Heck, even if not, I’d pay dues if the SoB were to crowdfund a campaign to buy a small portion. Imagine the only philly sports team part owned by fans.

        Even if we could only come up with a few mill, it’d be enough to buy a striker.

        I’d throw 4-5 figs at it.

  6. Great One says:

    I’m just gonna leave that right there….

    • Stunning…I wish I could say.
      He’s not even trying to make it look real at this point. Just put him out of his misery.

  7. The Truth says:

    I actually cared about Croatia/Russia earlier in the day more than this Union match. The basis of my investment in that international match was because I work with a Croatian guy. That’s it, just a coworker’s pride rubbed off on me. I’ve been a STH for nearly a decade and I watched like 30 minutes of this ATL match. That’s how I feel right now. Viva Croatia.

  8. I understand that Sugarman isn’t moneybags. I’m grateful he went on a limb to start the team.
    That said, I can’t help but see a depressing irony in a REIT owner refusing further investment.
    He must have something else going on with mls. If he’s not in the black (at all or enough to invest in a striker) and not seeking further investment, there’s got to be another avenue he’s pursuing with mls for value. What, I don’t know.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but somebody wanted to invest. Heck, even if not, I’d pay dues if the SoB were to crowdfund a campaign to buy a small portion. Imagine the only philly sports team part owned by fans.
    Even if we could only come up with a few mill, it’d be enough to buy a striker.
    I’d throw 4-5 figs at it.

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