Union match reports

Match report: Atlanta United 0-3 Philadelphia Union

Photo courtesy Concacaf Champions League

The Philadelphia Union played a half of bunkered soccer and another wherein the secrets of the universe were fully revealed. At the end of 90 tense minutes, the team became only the 12th team to ever win in Atlanta, and the only one to ever do so in the Concacaf Champions League, pulling off a 3-0 victory over Atlanta United in the first leg of their quarterfinal match.

First half

The Union gave striker Cory Burke his first start since 2019 and gave Anthony Fontana another chance to get a feel for the match from the bench. The roof was open at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which substantially lowered the likelihood of COVID transmission among the 20,000 or so fans and provided some natural light for the debut of the VAR cameras for this Concacaf Champions League.

In white shorts and a yellow BIMBO logo, the Union staved off a 6th minute Jurgen Damm counter attack only thanks to a lunging 1 v 1 stop from Andre Blake. Shortly thereafter, Jose Martinez was issued a yellow card for his first challenge of the match, pulling Marcelino Moreno down about 40 yards from goal. The booking means Martinez will miss the tie’s return leg.

Atlanta United were firmly on the front foot in the game’s first 15 minutes, with the Union sitting much deeper than usual to try and settle into United’s shape, the slick turf, and the Five Stripes’ high pressure. It was Leon Flach that gave the Philadelphia their first chance, pouncing on a flat throw-in and finding friendly feet in the box. In the end, no one could settle the pass or get a shot off and the moment was gone.

Jack Elliott snuffed another counter-attacking chance with an inch perfect slide tackle in the 28th minute, and the Union countered themselves off the scrum following the ensuing corner. Cory Burke and Kacper Pryzbylko got their wires crossed as they neared pay dirt unfortunately and the possession was “nothing doing.” Minutes later, Blake saved the Union’s blushes again, parrying a half-volley from Emerson Hyndman over the crossbar and then stone-walling yet another chance from Moreno shortly thereafter.

Just a moment later, a Union turnover sprung Atlanta into the channel, forcing Blake into a double save of Martinez and Damm. It was during the three minutes of stoppage time when the Boys in Blue finally put together coherent a passing sequence, with Jamiro Monteiro finding himself at the end of the rally, in space at the top of the box. His shot skipped harmlessly wide and though Olivier Mbaizo turned an exquisite Union break into a 3 v 2 in the Atlanta box at the death, his centering ball was lacking.

The Union were fortunate to go into the locker room without conceding, weathering a storm of one-way traffic and doing little themselves to find cover.

Second half

Sergio Santos came on for the ineffective Burke at the half, meaning the number of players with exceptionally dyed hair increased by one.  That didn’t stop Atlanta from forcing a turnover and getting the half’s first chance. Blake again turned the ball away and the Santos forced Atlanta into a yellow card foul on the other end.

After having only 40% of the ball in the first half, the Union looked more calm in the early stages of the second frame. There was still far too much space on the Union’s left side and Atlanta were relentless, but with nothing to show for it.

A crafty bit of Union play from several players saw Monteiro slip Przybylko through on Brad Guzan’s goal. His outside of the foot chance was blocked, but the Striker Muffin atoned for that mistake on the ensuing corner by sliding the ball home at the far post. It was the striker’s third goal in as many Champions League games,.

Atlanta did not relent following the opening tally, pouring numbers forward, and in the 60th minute Santiago Sosa used the crossbar as a pitch pipe. The note it rang was allegedly an F#.

Santos began to dwell inside Atlanta United player’s heads with his persistent physicality and in the 64th minute was clobbered in the eye by Miles Robinson’s elbow, drawing blood. As is customary in Concacaf, neither commentator Stu Holden nor referee Jair Marrufo felt a card was warranted. That heat forced the pot to truly boil, and the first Union foul after the elbow was a crunching challenge from captain Alejandro Bedoya on Cubo Torres, who returned the favor by finding out how stretchy Mbaizo’s jersey was.

A miscommunication in the Atlanta midfield was all the Union needed to find their second. Flach pounced on a loose ball, gave Santos a one-two touch, and then centered to Pyzbylko. The Muffin was in acres of space and calmly pounded the ball past a flailing Brad Guzan. Suddenly the plucky upstarts from Philadelphia with no chance in Vegas’s books were up 2-0 in the hallowed building where American soccer was really invented.

In the 79th minute, a curling ball into the box forced Blake and Torres into a high-flying collision. As is another Concacaf custom, goalkeepers can be obstructed without a foul and thus play went on. The Union were fortunate Atlanta’s rebound went wide.

Minutes later, the pot finally boiled completely over when Atlanta took issue with a Sergio Santos injury and tempers flared. Some pushing and shoving ensued, led on the Philadelphia side by none other than “on a yellow card” Jose Martinez. Then Pryzbylko went down, and what is known in the region as “A Full Concacafing” began: time was wasted by the team with the unexpected lead, while their opponents were overly useful in helping retrieve possession lost out of bounds.

An impeccably timed counter gave the Union their impossible third goal of the night. Every pass was mesmeric, but Santos’s back shoulder curler to find Pryzbylko at the midfield stripe is as good a ball as any Boy in Blue has ever played. The Muffin’s unselfishness in sliding a pass to the onrushing Anthony Fontana to finish the deal, rather than try for his own hat trick, is unspeakable beauty in its simplest and most generous form.

Six minutes of stoppage time were merely the credits to this blockbuster “underdog” tale.

Three points
  • Leon Flach: Many fans thought this would be Anthony Fontana’s year. It may still be, but it’s Leon Flach’s world and we’re all living in it. The newcomer was everywhere, standing out in a crowded midfield once again.
  • Andre Blake: Blake was as good as ever, making seven saves, saving the team several goals to the good, and generally doing exactly what he was drafted to go: anchor the franchise.
  • Kacper Pryzbylko: For much of the match, it seemed like Pryzbylko could do no right. His touches were turf-y and his interplay with Burke was nonexistent. As good strikers do, he simply pressed on and was rewarded for it thricely.
Lineups

Atlanta United

4-3-3: Guzan, Bello, Franco, Robinson, Damm, Hyndman, Ibarra (Torres, 68′), Sosa, Moreno, Martinez, Barco

Philadelphia Union

4-1-2-1-2: Blake, Wagner, Elliott, Glesnes, Martinez, Flach (Fontana, 77′), Bedoya, Monteiro, Pryzbylko, Burke (Santos, 45′)

Scoring Summary

PHI: Kacper Przybylko — 57′
PHI: Kacper Przybylko — 73′ (Leon Flach)
PHI: Anthony Fontana — 84′ (Kacper Przybylko)

Disciplinary Summary

PHI: Jose Martinez — 6′ (foul)
ATL: Emerson Hyndman — 47′ (foul)

53 Comments

  1. I’m not overstating the importance of this win. We defeated Atlanta in their house by their worst margin since inception. We won 3-0 as Servedio expertly puts it “Union their third #DOOP of the night and a lead that would have been frankly inconceivable in the first half”

    I love jumping for joy in my living room to this performance.

    Criticisms: Strikers need chemistry. Martinez needs to be better disciplined.
    Surprise: Bedoya and others energy after Sunday.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Great result even if the first half could see 10 player ratings of 3 or less.
    .
    Holden questioned Martinez getting a yellow so early but to my mind that was clearly the correct call.
    .
    Tough decision on the lineup next week. Do you start Fontana in the 10 and have Monteiro or Bedoya in the 6? Or do you start Findley and let Elliot play the 6? If they needed the win, I would probably go with the former, but given tonight’s result, an extra defender on the field might not be the worst idea.
    .
    One thing that struck me was when Santos went down and the fight almost broke out, Atlanta should have been happy rather than accusing Santos of faking it. As long as they could convince the ref to add all the time back on (which in the end he probably didn’t) they benefited from the stoppage while Torres was off the field getting treated for his head wound.

    • I would have said Miro for Martinez, but I like the Elliot angle with Findley. What I’d really like to see is Real, Fontana, and maybe Flach start with Elliot at the base. Maybe even give one of the mighty mites a start. Then bring in Miro, Ale as needed. This is all dependent on who Jim starts on the weekend though. I want rotation in some form.

    • Interesting idea to put Elliott at CDM, though perhaps risky to bring in a new CB for a game of such import.

      My thought was either play Monteiro at the 6 — he could easily do it, we just lose some of his offense — or else switch up to a 4-2-3-1, with Monteiro/Bedoya splitting CDM duties, Kasper up top, Fontana at the 10, Flach on one wing, and Santos on the other.

  3. Lots of thoughts about this game, but just want to leave it at what a performance by Blake tonight. Everything else that worked out for the Union today only did so because of his big saves early on. A great palette cleanser after the dud against Miami.

  4. Missed the first 30 minutes due to traffic on the way back from my daughter’s practice. But great 60+ minutes.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    The only thing more satisfying than that game are the amount of entitled Atlanta fans whining and crying on Twitter. Mmmm… tastes so good. Ha! Made me forget all about Miami last Saturday. I’ll add my two sense tomorrow but I’m so amped I just had to throw that out there.

  6. el Pachyderm says:

    Surprise Surprise.
    .
    I had a shit ton of shit talk after that first half and they forced me to shelf it -so congrats to Union. Won’t say a derisive word in light of that outcome.
    .
    some Scorched Earth stuff there. Wow.

  7. Sergio's Cut Man says:

    Kinda night where you just tip your cap the keeper and keep it moving.

    Marrufo gon’ Marrufo.

  8. I mean I’m still in complete disbelief. That ball from Santos to set up the third goal was incredible.
    .
    Blake I think is the best player to ever wear the Union jersey, and I don’t think there should be any debate about that.
    .
    Atlanta had a lot of space on his side of the field, but I thought Flach was a big reason why they could never actually do anything with it. He was fantastic for me.
    .
    What a result!

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I was just thinking about that last week. I think his performance in Columbus was the final straw in putting him over Le Toux. Everything he does from this point is just padding his lead.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        Feel like LeToux gets the nod for nostalgia and his 50 and 50 stats… but Blake gets it for pure talent and ability. Dude is an absolute MONSTER. We are lucky to have him.

      • In Tanner We Trust says:

        I think when this team eventually splits, Blake, Bedoya, Miro, Martinez could all be top 5. Of course, I think Bedoya is also already there.

    • Every time Blake has a game like this, I think: “Why is this dude not playing in Europe?” I think that’s gonna happen if he keeps playing like he has the last 1.1 seasons…

      • pragmatist says:

        Something to keep in mind about that: Jamaicans are not allowed to move to the Premier League due to the national team’s FIFA ranking. (Sure…we’ll pretend these rules make sense).
        https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/andre-blake-among-jamaican-standouts-paying-price-for/isgkn2fmvgsq145u0j2r9ok8w
        .
        That article is from 2017, but the rules are still in place, I believe.

      • Blake is undoubtedly a great shot stopper, but his distribution is far inferior to his counterparts in the European leagues. People with great hands are 10 a penny in Europe, whereas a standout keeper needs to have the full package. To make it in the best European leagues one needs to be able to use his feet from either a dead ball or as some kind of sweeper keeper which is a huge part missing from his game to attract the big boys.

      • Pragmatist I’m aware of that rule, which is why Blake didn’t go to the EPL a few years ago. But the article is indeed outdated, not because the rules have changed, but because the Reggae Boyz are now ranked #45 by FIFA as of today.

        And yes, Blake’s distribution is not top-notch, but I don’t think shot-stoppers of THIS caliber are a ten a penny in Europe.

  9. There seems to be a consensus on MLS twitter that Philly ‘CONCACAFed’ their way to this win. (Not to mention the salty Atlanta fans crying about time wasting, as if they’ve never watched this sport, or their own team, before.) To be sure, they were lucky to get out of the first half with the clan sheet. But I’ll argue they thoroughly deserved the win.
    .
    Philly’s first goal was a bit lucky and against the run of play, but Atlanta’s response was a big gamble, throwing everything up front, failing to convert chances and leaving their defensive third wide open. Pryzbylko had acres of open space for that second goal, and he was hardly troubled to combine with Fontana for the third.
    .
    Great win for Philly against a team I love to see lose. Great way to finish the day.

  10. For me Blake is the best player to ever wear a Union jersey, and it isn’t particularly close.
    .
    I mean I don’t have anything to say really. What an absolute statement. Hope we can finish the job next week.

  11. Hmm. Flach at the 6 when CCL comes to Chester? He is a beast. Midfield diamond with Flach, Miro, Ale, Fontana. What a game! I am still in shock…

    • Considering Atlanta’s tactics and the fact the Union are going in with a three goal lead, I’m wondering if Curtin should shift formations proactively. I’m wondering if the Union might benefit from switching formations to clog the center of the pitch a bit more. I think they might play double pivot in the center of the park and play with a single forward. Something like a double pivot of Elliot and Bedoya, with Flach, Monteiro and Fontana playing ahead.

  12. I can’t help but feel the Union sucker punched Atlanta. They sat back and roped some dopes. Then WHACK. Right between the eyes.
    .
    Ruthless. They did what every other CONCACAF team has done to the U.S. for years. They fell at every knock. They drug their feet on throw-ins, goal kicks, injuries. God knows how I loathe it against the U.S. but man was it gloriously beautiful tonight.
    .
    I was right with you Pachy after the first half. I would have made sailors blush. But a miracle happened. I laughed at the thought coming out of Holden’s mouth, ha, because we all know who coaches this team. But there was the miracle. Santos had come on at the half. Jimbo came to play.
    .
    Hats off the the men. Hats off to the gaffer. That S.O.B. is going to make my ever thinning hair even thinner. Dammit if he didn’t make me eat my words again. Well done. Well done.

  13. Atomic Spartan says:

    Oh
    .
    My
    .
    GAWD!!!

  14. Pragmatist says:

    I think back to all of the Open Cup runs and how exciting they were as we got closer to the finals.
    .
    Seems quaint now…

    • Similar thoughts here. We’ve matured as an organization and a fan base. The bar has been raised and we expect results. The mood after Sunday’s loss was “well there goes the open cup qualification.” Now, to “this CCL is where we should be focusing”

  15. Gruncle Bob says:

    Well written, an absolute joy to read! “As is customary in CONCACAF…” – hilarious!

  16. Well, I may not have gotten ten years younger tonight…but I sure as hell felt like it. 🙂 What a nice shot in the arm.

    I liked Curtin’s ‘all business’ expression when the match concluded. His post-match comments already has him focused on the second leg with due respect and due regard. The team seems likewise focused too.

    CCL appearances don’t come around often and especially so for many teams. Curtin got it right that it’s the one pathway to competitively play teams like Manchester City or Brazilian champs and whatnot at the FIFA Club World Cup. Getting there is hard, but at least they see it and want to take their best crack at it.

  17. OneManWolfpack says:

    Amazing to keep it together after that first half. Nothing I can write, and nothing anyone else has written, can do Blake justice. He was out of his mind and we are lucky to have him. Period. Nice to see the Union finish the chances they got and then pile on. I’d like to see Findley play Saturday to get his feet wet and then have Elliott at the 6 for at least half the game next Tuesday. I feel like you can play for 45 minutes in that game and assuming it all doesn’t go to hell in one half, then you bunker in a bit and see the game out. Putting Elliot at the 6 and telling him not to cross half, would be a solid way to do that. Maybe that’s too defensive, but a win, is a win, is a win.
    .
    Martinez is a joy to watch, but man does he make me sweat. Walks the line. Takes no shit. I love it. Just needs to not get as many cards. Regardless, dude is awesome.
    .
    Santos’ pass on that 3rd goal was a work of art. Stunning and glorious. Really nice by Kacper to drop it off to Fontana too for the easy finish. No selfishness there. Speaking of Fontana, I would love to see him Saturday as well.
    .
    Flach has been amazing. Another excellent Tanner addition.
    .
    This really is the best sentence you’ve ever written – HA! – “Suddenly the plucky upstarts from Philadelphia with no chance in Vegas’s books were up 2-0 in the hallowed building where American soccer was really invented.”

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I would also give Fontana a fair bit of credit for making a perfect run alongside Kacper. He stayed just behind Kacper to stay onsides while also staying far enough forward so Kacper knew he was there and open.

  18. I scarcely understand how a team can be so outclassed in half the match and yet come away with a 3-0 victory on the road in the toughest stadium in MLS. I mean, other than picturing Andre Blake with a Superman cape. I’m still in shock.

    Wonder how long it’s gonna take the MLSentsia to realize that this club is for real. Which is, frankly, about the most satisfying thing I could write right now.

  19. I let this win sink in for the over night. This team took me, and from the comments above,us for a emotional ride last night! That…all by itself was worth the wait. The Union has raised the bar for themselves. It’s been a great journey so far. The Coffin is buried, the cliff is abandoned,the time to smile and enjoy the moment is now! How much fun is that??

    • I’ve built a nice little cottage on that cliff. The view is nicer these days

      • Is the chocolate chip cookie stand there?? I seem to remember that. But yeah! I’m thinking there is less crowd. Like the Wildwood boardwalk in mid January!

  20. I ran the gamut of emotions in that game – from anger and frustration in the first half to elation in the second half.
    .
    I said to my daughter at the end of the first half – “this is what a great GK can do for you, keep you in a game where you’ve been totally dominated. Let’s hope they do better in the second half..” Blake was nothing short of otherworldly.
    .
    I also was surprised that 10 of the 11 who have started and played almost every minute of every game so far still had the energy the play almost all of this game.
    .
    I also give Curtin credit for yanking Burke at the half. He was shockingly bad. The Burke-Santos switch changed the whole Union attack, IMO

  21. Now I need a Chris Gibbons penned top 10 iconic Union wins please and thanks.

  22. This was a really interesting match, because I think Heinze discovered a really good way to play the Union for a team with solid defense. The Atlanta fullbacks regularly cut in on offense, as a way to overload the middle and make it harder for the Union to force quick turnovers in good positions while also facilitating Atlanta’s ball progression. It fell apart pretty badly when Atlanta started chasing the game, but I attribute a lot of that to Atlanta losing their cool and going hyper agressive when they went down a goal (frankly, they had a decent chance of scoring an equalizer given the way the run of play was going).

    I’m curious to see what happens in Philadelphia. I don’t think Atlanta can afford to chase the game for 90 minutes without surrendering another goal, but at the same time, they have to find a way to make up three goals just to force a penalty shootout. Lacking Martinez is going to hurt for the U, he was really important for his progressive passing and taking Atlanta players on the dribble today. Multiple times, he chose to absorb pressure and then make a good pass forward instead of trying to recycle possession backwards, and that was an important release valve for getting the ball into the opponents half of the field when the score was still deadlocked.

    Should be a more interesting game at home than a 3-0 score might indicate it should be.

  23. No one likes, we don’t care.

  24. No one likes us, we don’t care.

  25. George Rawling says:

    How did this team lose to Miami

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Miami finished. (plus it was a completely different game where the Union never had a chance to counterattack Miami like they did against Atlanta)

  26. fantastic win!! Missed the whole game but saw the hi-lights. Will do that more often if it helps the team.

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