Union / Union match reports

Match report: Atlanta United 1-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Eighteen-year-old Brenden Aaronson stole the show in Atlanta on Sunday night as Philadelphia Union earned its first point of the season in a 1-1 draw with the reigning Major League Soccer champions.

Plenty of Philly chances were bottled in the match, but the one that mattered most was emphatically converted by Aaronson, who was making his MLS debut. Just out of halftime, the Union homegrown darted toward the opposing box with an eye for a shot. When he ripped it through the legs of the defender, the ball deflected and left Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan utterly frozen. He fell to the ground in disgust as the ball rippled the net and Aaronson was off running in celebration.

For a while, it looked like the monumental goal would also be a winner on the road.

Atlanta made a substitution on the backline and took back possession of the ball after going down 1-0, but chances kept missing the target or finding Andre Blake’s gloves. It wasn’t until Ezequiel Barco came on in the 67th minute that the home crowd finally had something to cheer about. After a ball was cleared out of the box on right, Atlanta prepared for another service in front of Blake. Everyone was marked except a late runner in Barco, who found himself free between Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin and looped a header into the far panel. Blake’s dive didn’t reach and the hosts flipped the momentum instantly.

From there on out, Philly’s defense was on its heels and defending cross after cross into the box. Reigning league MVP Josef Martinez shot one wide on a clean break and a couple more chances forced Blake into a quick pick-up, but the score stayed tied. Cory Burke had the Union’s best chance of the second half late on, when he sprinted toward the end line and attempted to play Fafa Picault back across face. Guzan gathered it and killed the play. Medunjanin also bent a dangerous free-kick just over the bar in the 92nd minute.

David Accam was finally subbed on for the struggling Burke in the 88th, but didn’t make an impact in such a short amount of time. The draw is the Union’s first-ever result against Atlanta United.

Aaronson looked wise beyond his years in the first half, but wasn’t helped by his teammates. First in the 5th minute, he weaved through traffic and rolled a ball across the box for Warren Creavalle, who settled and failed to get a shot off in space. Again in the 40th, Aaronson gathered a giveaway in the midfield and played a precise through ball up to a barely-onside Picault. The forward took a big touch and rounded Guzan, only to whiff on the shot and send a dribbler toward goal. It was tapped to Guzan and another chance went begging.

Just after Creavalle’s blunder in the box in the 5th, Picault found himself in front of net and ballooned one over the frame. The same happened to Burke later in the half, when a skidding cross hit him in space and he sailed it into the crowd. Union manager Jim Curtin, who opted to keep Burke on through two injuries and some blown touches, may look back at the hollow chances as a missed opportunity. It was the tale of the game until a teenager saved the day.

Martinez clanked the crossbar from close range and has one goal this season after a record-breaking 34 in 2018. Of the six Union shot attempts, just three were on target. The visitors completed a mere 177 accurate passes to Atalanta’s 580 and earned one corner kick.

Three points

Aarsonson is special. Marco Fabian obviously isn’t going anywhere at the No. 10, but can you really just bench Aaronson after a night like Sunday? He was poised and comfortable, sharp and impressive. Age has nothing to do with it. The kid can play and just about every Union supporter will want to see more of him in some capacity.

Creavalle? Attacking? It’s one thing to put Creavalle in the starting XI for tactical reasons, but what if he’s just not at all comfortable in the attack? Once he openly turned around in space to make a back pass and another time he failed to get a shot off in the 18. A midfielder that is attacking should not be doing either one of those things. Curtin did seem to notice and subbed on Derrick Jones at half, so there’s that.

Mark, Medunjanin, mark! It was the same old story with Medunjanin after this one, who was again in the spotlight on Atlanta’s equalizer. He didn’t have to clear the ball. He didn’t have to win the header. He didn’t even have to jump. He just had to do something. Standing there still and watching a 5-foot-5 Barco launch into the air simply is not acceptable. If his work rate can’t be relied upon late in matches, sub him off. He did some good things but another failed marking is the headliner.


Philadelphia: Andre Blake, Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty, Kai Wagner, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya, Warren Creavalle (Derrick Jones 46′), Brenden Aaronson (Ilsinho 74′), Fafa Picault (David Accam 88′), Cory Burke.

Unused subs: Matt Freese, Mark McKenzie, Anthony Fontana, Olivier Mbaizo.

Atlanta United: Brad Guzan, Leandro González Pirez, Miles Robinson, Michael Parkhurst (Brek Shea 58′), Jeff Larentowicz (Andrew Carleton 79′), Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel, Pity Martinez, Hector Villalba (Ezequiel Barco 67′), Josef Martinez.

Unused subs: Alec Kann, Mikey Ambrose, Brendon Vazquez. Romario Williams.

Scoring summary

PHI — Brenden Aaronson (47′)

ATL — Ezequiel Barco (70′)


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    thought Union were clearly the better team tonight and were it not for Haris falling asleep atop the box for 3rd straight game directly costing team a 4th goal against, they get out of the deep south with 3 points.
    The Kid was best player on the field tonight- and managed to unlock Atlanta about 10 times with death balls— but gets subbed for a guy who doesn’t unlock the defense except while on the ball–take off Burke instead, who by my accounts was… just not very good.
    Now what though, Jim? The Kid’s gotta play, right? For first time in quite awhile I was genuinely peaked in interest. A player who excites me.
    Can he adjust to teams adjusting to his presence… the storyline and drama. “Like Sands Through the Hourglass…” I’ll tune in every day for the Soap.
    Play him. Play him again and again and again. Then sell him.
    Excellent first crack at this thing.

    • It will be a criminal waste of talent not to start that kid again immediately and for the forseeable future. What a fun watch.
      That was a damned good team in as big and hostile an environment as North America has to offer, and Aaronson looked like he had played that team on FIFA about a 100 times already.

    • Agree with everything except blaming *only* Haris for the goal. See comment below under OneManWolfpack.

    • Why not make Fabian the second striker and leave Aaronson at the ten?
      I hope it’s not just one and done for the kid. He was all over the place, making smart defensive runs and coverage, cutting off angles. It was a beautiful thing to watch. And that pass. The Union need a striker that scores.

    • Can’t agree enough. It will be a crime when Curtin definitely doesn’t play the kid in front of Creavalle, Fabian or Haris. Personally I’d give him a shot at outside mid for a game. Burke and Haris were not good for the third Straight but in fairness either was Fafa. None of that matters though just develop and play the kid.

    • Kid could have easily had two assists if anyone else on the team could finish. He was good with the ball at his feet and played some super passes. He needs to be on this team for sure.

      Medunjanin was not totally at fault, but he is facing the direction of the play, with an unmarked player in front of him inside the box and he just watches the cross come in and get headed in. Unacceptable. His passing was also atrocious all night. Bench him. Honestly, play Creavalle/Jones/New guy?(forget his name) at the #6 and put Aaronson in on the left once Fabian is back.

      Also for the love of all that is holy Jim, MAKES SUBS EARLIER.

    • Aaronson had one of the best games for an attacking mid ever in a Union jersey. Curtain will NEVER play him again. He is going back to the wilderness with Anthony Fontana, never to be seen from again.

    • Interesting. During the game, I said to my daughter that Ilsinho for Burke was the better move. Atlanta was pushing, and the Union would’ve been just fine with one forward – especially one who can use his speed the way Picault can. An extra possession-oriented body in the middle would (in my opinion at least) have helped settle things down after the goal. If Aaronson was flagging a bit, you could leave him up higher and let Ilsinho do the running. But Burke wasn’t doing shit (other than getting hurt) all game, and they would have had a much easier time seeing it out if they could keep possession.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    How do you not play Aaronson is exactly right?!? Kid was on and clearly has the chops. Nice to see is legit. Excellent first goal young man.
    Haris… Haris… Haris. Please Jim, for the love of god sit the guy down.
    A good point earned overall though. Now use this momentum next week at home get all 3 points.
    And man… this not your 2018 Atlanta… they look a mess compared to last season

    • In fairness, ATL were worn out from their recent schedule and facing a much needed break. I think they mighta had their cars idling in the lot from the opening whistle.

    • Re: Haris… Ale was tracking Barco and then let him drift unmarked to mark… no one.
      Maybe he was trying to hand him off to Haris, but Ale has a responsibility there to keep tracking until the handoff is acknowledged.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Rewatched the goal and I do agree. Haris culpable but not totally at fault. Besides his marking woes though, I just don’t think he’s done anything positive so far this season. I’d like to see Jones get a run of a few games

      • No argument from me.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        It is a team game so point taken. I have observed the guy responsible for the space at and inside top of 18 each time has been Haris and each time he has failed to either track a runner or check his shoulder defensively to even be aware of his surroundings. Guy is just watching the ball.

      • I’m with you.

  3. Why sub Aaronson? Burke not having a good night and his temper at losing ball earned him an unnecessary card.
    Good game. Union low possession but didn’t come across that way watching.
    Congrats to team.

  4. Old Soccer coach says:

    The union will have two uninjured available strikers against Columbus. Przybylko’s toe, santos hip flexor, Burke called up.
    And Przybylko is a ninth international for only 8 slots in any case.

  5. I can easily see Aaronson in for Medujanin. He seemed to complete more well targeted passes than Hariis and played defense well, interrupting Atlanta’s offensive flow on more than one occasion. On top of that he is fast and didn’t seem to tire at a consistent fast pace. Time for Haris to be a mentor for him or Fontana. We have to stop the walk ins from the center of the pitch; they are costing us serious points.

    • I just don’t like moving Brenden to the d-mid position. Would rather develop him at the 8 or 10.
      But, I think Jamiro Montiero was brought in to be the longer term 6, so that will address the issue if Derrick Jones falters.
      Speaking of Jones, I thought he did well tonight.

  6. Congrats to Brenden!
    With a shortage of forwards, does he deserve a chance there if the plan is to place Jamiro Montiero on the left of the diamond?
    Of course, if the plan is to have Jamiro replace Haris at the 6, do you give the left side 8 to Brenden? Or, keep him as the sub for Marco?

    • Only came here this morning to say exactly these things.
      The kid looked stellar. He needs more minutes. When/how do we get Haris off the pitch?

  7. The kid was the only reason I tuned in. Did not disappoint.
    Burke and other forwards however did. No finish in the same area code of the goal.
    It’s a point. It was my low bar, highest expectation. It was a goal, on open play, by youth. That’s solid.

  8. I thin at the end of the year everyone will look back and the season will have been defined by managerial stubbornness and inability to change. Haris and Burke need a change, Ilsinho didn’t need to come on there. The kids need a chance to try. None of these will happen. Just hope Tanner doesn’t wait until it’s too late.

  9. It has become rather obvious that Fafa Picault probably has trouble even finishing his morning dumps.

  10. Zizouisgod says:

    This is probably the closest that we’ve seen the Union play the style that Tanner has talked about. More direct, quicker transitions from their defensive third and limiting their opponents possession to non-threatening areas. For all of ATL’s dominance with possession, most was in their own half and the Union had the better chances.

    Even on the ATL goal, the Union had plenty of bodies back in the box. Sure, many of them were caught ball-watching and multiple players failed to track Barco’s run, but when you watch how Gressel dropped that chip between Jones and Medujanin, it was a terrific assist. It would have been great if someone had challenged Barco in the air as he’s not known for his aerial prowess, but they didnt and paid the price.

    I do think that as the Union adapt better to this style, we will likely see Medujanin’s hold on a starting position become tenuous. Especially if Aaronson plays in one of the shuttler roles with Bedoya rather than Creavalle as the Union will have a much better passer further up the pitch which lessens the need for Medujanin’s skill set.

    Last thing – the Aaronson goal was wonderful, I especially loved how he used a dummy to free himself up and into space.

    • My only concern is that I don’t see where goals are going to come from. I don’t think any of our forwards are up to the task. I hope Santos has more quality than Picault or Burke.

      The irony that Sapong has two goals and an assist and Herbers has a goal for Chicago is … something.

      But my outlook is more positive than not. I wasn’t expecting a point out of this match. Was surprised how discombobulated Atlanta seemed on attack. Those players have not figured it out yet. When they do, they’ll be trouble.

      • Not that our forwards are good at finishing, but they aren’t this bad. I think goals will start to come for the forwards, even though there will still be plenty of bad misses. Can’t see Tanner being patient with the strikers if we keep creating tons of chances without goals too.

  11. David Hasse says:

    Can anyone explain why the Picault save was not a hand ball. The defensive player looked back, saw Guzan and tapped it to him with his foot, in other words a pass. Guzan picks up the ball. I thought that was a hand ball by the goalie.

    • I agree but they are never going to call that as it’s a “goal line save” by the player. And honestly no other Union player was around so it didn’t really change anything. There we 2 other handballs by Atlanta that weren’t called which pissed me off, one being right outside their box in a dangerous area.

    • The pass to the keeper has to be deliberate. A touch to block a shot, even one that deftly flicks the ball to the keeper, is never going to be ruled a pass in that situation. It was one touch. If he had blocked it and then passed it to Guzan and Guzan scooped it up, that would be different.

  12. I like Haris, but he is never going to get it. He can probably play D ok when he concentrates on it, but it will never be second nature to him, automatic. A #6 should always be thinking defense first, then flip over to offense only as the situation allows. He will keep getting burned and costing us points/goals.
    Meanwhile, since he is playing out of position, we have to play Creavalle out of position so he can offer Haris defensive help.
    Jones or Creavalle have to play the #6 unless Jamiro does. Really looking forward to seeing a Aaronson, Fabian, Bedoya and Jamiro (at #6) midfield at some point.

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