Match previews

Match preview: Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo Credit: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (12th place, 0 points, 0-2-0) vs. Atlanta United (9th place, 1 point, 0-1-1)
What: 2019 regular season game
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
When: Sunday, March 17 at 7 pm
Watch: ESPN+, MLS Live, PHL17

Many people have said that Week 2 and Week 3 would be the most difficult for the Union to face at the start of 2019. Going into Kansas City and then Atlanta? Difficult, expect the Union to lose, hope for a tie. But both Philadelphia and Atlanta have been struggling to get going at the beginning of this season, so maybe the anticipated loss in Atlanta is no longer completely accurate. Union fans can dream, right?

Scouting report: Atlanta United

Projected United starting lineup

Think back to last year. Tata Martino led a thriving Atlanta United to win the MLS Cup with superstar combo Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. Last year’s Atlanta led the league in points and Josef Martinez set the record for most goals in a season. Basically, 2018 Atlanta United was a powerhouse full of young talent.

With international star Pity Martinez replacing Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez still up top, you’d think that this year’s Atlanta would still be dominating MLS. Well, it hasn’t exactly been the start that new head coach Frank de Boer has been hoping for this season. With a loss and a tie, Atlanta has only scored one goal in 2019.

Like his predecessor, de Boer has been playing a 3-4-3. The attackers’ shape is more like a triangle this season, with Pity and Ezequiel Barco acting more like attacking midfielders behind Josef Martinez. However, the flanks can’t generate too many attacks because they are supporting midfielders and often receive the ball with their backs to Josef Martinez, who’s surrounded by the entire back line. Maybe it’s the beginning of the season’s growing pains and this new position and style will just take some time for Atlanta to get used to, but right now Atlanta hasn’t been scoring goals.

Atlanta’s three-man back line relies on the midfield for support. They can be stretched thin pretty easily on the sides, which requires midfielders to shift back and cover the open space. It’s easy to exploit with speedy and tactical wingers who can draw outside defenders to the sidelines, and fast attackers rushing through central open spaces behind the back line.

  • Injury report: D – Franco Escobar (fractured right clavicle)
  • Suspended: N/A
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Projected Union starting lineup

Weeks 1 and 2 were not what the Union were hoping for. The new shape has been… interesting. It has its pros and cons, but a lot of the individual players have still yet to show their full array of skills and athleticism.

The first two matches have shown that some of the players don’t fit the new 4-4-2 model. It’s just not their style. Haris Medunjanin looks slow and a bit out of place at the bottom of the diamond, Ilsinho doesn’t fit well into a midfield diamond like this, Alejandro Bedoya hasn’t been generating many opportunities, and Marco Fabian was suspended last week. Without a veteran No. 10 leading the diamond, (and one of the players who hasn’t shown his full potential yet), Curtin is a bit stuck. Does he go with Brenden Aaronson, who hasn’t yet seen a minute of play this year? He should if he wants to exploit Atlanta’s defensive weaknesses. Aaronson can get into the open spaces behind the back line and provide the crosses for other attackers behind the defense, he did it for the Steel plenty.

Against Atlanta, the Union definitely need a strong back line; Josef Martinez is only ineffectual if he’s swamped with central defenders. Last week, Jack Elliott gave up an own goal. While it wasn’t really his fault, the lack of communication is a bit disconcerting. Little errors and breakdowns lead to allowing bad goals like that, and that’s like a drop of blood in the water to Atlanta. Kai Wagner has been… okay in his first two matches. He’s another player who’s yet to prove his worth to Union fans, and needs to this weekend by pressing up on Ezequiel Barco. Ray Gaddis is known to sit back a bit on the right side, and can’t really do that against Atlanta, who will have Pity a bit behind Josef Martinez.

  • Injury report: F – Sergio Santos (hip flexor strain)
  • Suspended: M- Marco Fabian
Key matchup

Josef Martinez vs. Union back line. This season’s Josef Martinez may not be the same as last season’s Josef Martinez, but he’s still Josef Martinez. He is tenacious and has scored a lot of goals in a lot of different ways in his career. It may only be Week 3, but he’s on a bit of a goal drought and will be hungry this weekend. The Union back line needs to stand strong, keeping him and his flanking attackers covered and frustrated.

Player to watch

Brenden Aaronson. This depends if Curtin is true to his “I’m not afraid to play him” word, but at this point, it’s kind of a necessity. With Fabian out this match, the Union need a No. 10 and it should be Aaronson. He may be young and in need of experience still, but he might give the Union that speed and spark they need in the midfield to actually score some goals. Let’s really steer into the whole team of young and local players thing.

Prediction: Atlanta 2-1 Philadelphia

Given the home field advantage and first two week frustrations, Atlanta is probably going to score some goals. Or maybe they’ll score on an unlucky VAR-awarded penalty because that’s just how things have been going for Philly this season. Maybe that’s the only way the Union will score seeing as we’ve been awarded one in every game this year. However the goals are scored, it’s going to be a tough battle working out the kinks of a new formation with new players against last year’s league champs on the road.


  1. I can’t wait to watch this game!
    – not me

  2. If I were manager for this one, I’d probably try a defensive approach. I’d set up 5-3-2… Working from Sara’s expected lineup (which I do think is what we’re going to see), I’d add Collin between the current center backs for the veteran, shithouse factor. I’d instruct Wagner to give me depth on the left but leave the right wide chanel open to Bedoya. I’d sit Medunjanin and Creavalle and use Jones. Not sure we have any better options than Burke and Picault up top. As it stands, I expect to see Creavalle playing between the center halves a lot.

    I would have felt better about this game if Atlanta had better results through their first two matches. I expect them to be looking to make a statement, and there’s no way the Union are keeping their front three from scoring if we go with a game plan as usual. I expect us to get smashed. Should be fun.

  3. Brenden Aaronson in this formation is the only reason i’ll watch the match. hoping that Atlanta’s unspectacular 2019 continues and we can steal a point

    • If this had been an afternoon match I probably would have dvr’d it in favor of watching the start of the new F1 season. That new Netflix series has gotten me fired up to watch F1 again. I can see myself missing more than a few Union matches in favor of something actually exciting.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    This game SCREAMS Atlanta 6-0. They break out of their slump, at home, against the Union. Yup. Makes too much sense. I’ll be watching this game with zero expectations.
    A dollar says Aaronson doesn’t start. Prove me wrong Jim.

  5. Let’s hope Atlanta thinks this is an easy win and let this one get away from them. Maybe Aaronson plays out of his mi d and The U steal 3 pts.

    Hope…its all I got.

  6. The solution to Atlanta’s scoring woes is Medunjanin at the #6 in a diamond midfield. Watch Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel, or both score easy goals with late runs into the box like Michael Bradley did. Just what the Five Stripes need to get themselves back on track!

    I’ll put it this way: my GF asked if I wanted to go out to see a band on Sunday night. My answer was, “Yes! You’ll spare me from seeing the Union lose again!”

  7. Trusty will suck; Tommy will excuse him on air.

    Curtin will play him 90 next game.


    • Section 114 (Former) says:

      Seriously, genius, THIS is what you are concerned about on this team? To the point you post it every damn thread. I guess you got booted out of the Academy or something.
      Ownership. Curtin. Ownership. Lineup Construction. Ownership. Lower Quality DPs. Ownership. AGAIN creating a system without regard to existing talent. Ownership. Gender slur on the front of the shirts. Ownership.
      This team has three material assets: Blake, a nice stadium (albeit in a less than optimal location), and JPD. How long we keep the two human pieces, I don’t know.

    • McKenzie is rebounding from a concussion, do you really want Collen in there instead of Trusty? Not me.

  8. 3-1 ATL with the Union goal coming off a corner scramble (a goal from the run of play but not one that was actually “earned”).
    Haris will be responsible for their first goal, an obvious blown cover and simple finish a la Bradley. Jake Elliot logs the first back-to-back own goal games in Union history. Pity Martinez takes the ball from half field and scores an absolute beauty from 25 yards after dribbling through the 3 Union players who bother to take it off him.
    I think there’s a good chance Aaronson will actually get the start and in that case I truly hope he plays well. If he has a poor performance he’ll never get another chance and Jim Curtin will be chomping at the bit to tell us all “I told you so! He’s not ready! None of them are ready!!!”

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      God dammit… your point about Curtin on Aaronson is spot on and I hate you for it 🙂

    • Aaronson starting is an investment. i’d rather him experience the pace and intensity of Atlanta then bring it home to play better. Jim says we’re not expected to win. by that admission, banishing Aaronson would be … so Jim, but also wrong.

    • Jamesy Robertson says:

      The Truth
      Always an optimist, for the season
      Has Jake been signed by the Union?
      Not sure you should be watching the “soccer” as you haven’t got a Scooby.

  9. el Pachyderm says:

    I’ll be watching. bond.

  10. I’m watching the game and hoping for a well played game. I believe there is enough depth to overcome Fabian red card. I would use a 4-3-3 lineup with Fontana, Aaronson and Haris as the middle three. Bedoya, Burke and Fafa to score three goals upfront, leave the four backs alone they are playing very well.
    I suggest this to coach Curtin,,, he has to flex his options and start getting points on the board….interested in replies and critic on the merits of this suggestion and someone show it to the coach..thanks.

  11. Since everyone else is making predictions I’ll say Jim switches back to the 4-2-3-1 for this one


    Play ultra defensive and possesion is roughly 75-25 in favor of ATL.

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