Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union v Atlas

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Who: Philadelphia Union vs Atlas

What: Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal (Leg 1 of 2)

Where: Subaru Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

Watch: FS1

Whistle: Hector Martinez; AR1 Walter Lopez; AR2 Christian Ramirez; Fourth official Melvin Matamoros; VARs Selvin Brown and Tatiana Guzman

Tuesday’s quarterfinal first leg between the Philadelphia Union and Liga MX’s Atlas is a bit of a mirror match. Neither side has lit their league alight but both secured passage to this round of Concacaf Champions League play with resounding, 4–0 victories in the home legs of their Round of 16 matches. The question is: Which version of each team will be seen on Tuesday night?

Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

In league play, MLS’s Philadelphia Union have been sputtering to start the season, with only a 2-3-1 record and a goal difference of zero (8 for, 8 against). Meanwhile, in Champions League play, the team has looked better, defeating Alianza FC over two legs by an aggregate score of 4-0, all four goals coming in the home leg.

There’s no obvious explanation for the team’s current malaise. Every player could improve, as every player has made mistakes that have contributed to the poor start. The new additions have looked solid, especially in CCL, where they have seen the most minutes. Considering the form of Jack Elliott, a start for Damion Lowe alongside Jakob Glesnes would not be a surprise. Neither would a start for Jack McGlynn, whose poise and ability on the ball added a lot to a stuttering Union attack on Saturday.

It’s unlikely that Kai Wagner will be available after suffering a hamstring injury in training, which means another start for Matt Real is probably on tap. Real had a respectable, if difficult, game against Sporting Kansas City on the weekend, struggling to contain Johnny Russell on the wing. Russell is a dangerous attacking player and Real did okay against him, limiting him to long-range strikes, for the most part. On the other side, it will be telling to see whether Jim Curtin opts for the better attacking Olivier Mbaizo or the more defensively sound Nathan Harriel at right back.

The biggest hope for the Union, though, is that their attacking trident of Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre, and Julian Carranza get back in sync. Union watchers know that those three can be devastating when in form. They just haven’t found that form very much in 2023.

Injury Report: OUT – Kai Wagner (hamstring)

Suspension Report: None

Scouting Report: Atlas

Atlas has also had a mediocre (or worse) go of things in league play, sitting 12th in Liga MX, with a record of 2-7-4. However, the second win came in the second-to-last game before this one (another 4–0) and in their last match before flying to the US, Atlas drew Guadalajara, the team that had until then been tied for the fewest goals allowed in Liga MX, 3–3. Like many Liga MX teams, Atlas like to have the ball, which would suit the Union fine. But they may look to bunker in the first leg and simply hold the ball without turnovers rather than attacking.

In truth, it’s difficult to get a read on Atlas. They have some good results on the year, holding Club America and Toluca to draws, allowing only one goal to Leon, and beating Puebla by four goals recently. That said, they have let in 19 goals in 13 matches in the Clausura. They finished the Apertura in 17th place (of 18 teams), with a -11 goal difference. Their good CCL result, defeating Olimpia 4–0, was necessary because they lost the away leg, 4–1.

All of which is to say that the Union, on paper, are the better team. Playing at home, the Union should expect to get a result. But considering the form and current mentality of the MLS side, that’s not guaranteed.

Injury Report: None

Suspension Report: None

Player to Watch: Daniel Gazdag

As Gazdag goes, so goes the Union’s attack. If he is getting on the ball and able to interplay with the strikers and Alejandro Bedoya, then it is likely the Union will score multiple goals. If he is isolated and having difficulty influencing the match with the ball, the Union could be in for a struggle.

Match-Up to Watch: The Union’s left side vs. Atlas’s right side

Wagner is out. Leon Flach has been underperforming. Whether it’s Flach or McGlynn in midfield, how the Union’s left side fares on both sides of the ball against Atlas’s attackers will tell watchers a lot about the state of the game.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 2–0 Atlas

It might take a little while to break Atlas down, but the Union ultimately record a comfortable home victory.


  1. The other reason to start McGlynn and Lowe is that they have more international and concacaf experience, respectively, than Flach and Elliott. Not sure Curtin appreciates that. Bedoya obviously invaluable in concacaf champions league, but the Union’s young players have way more high-level recent international experience than the regular starters. Another topic, but was a real treat to see Trusty and McKenzie partner in recent USMNT game v Grenada. PLAY THE KIDS, Curtin. (I’m betting Trusty and McKenzie would have mixed feelings about Curtin as USMNT coach.)

    • Vince Devine says:

      Why would McKenzie have any hard feelings? He was a best eleven MLS player under Curtin and parlayed that to a move to Genk.

  2. The combining of McKenzie and Trusty began long ago in Bethlehem under Brendan Burke.

  3. The Union need a strong start tonight. Come the 2nd half there will be some tired legs with most of their key players playing most of the game last sat. Would be good if they could get far enough ahead to allow for some early subs.

  4. The intensity that Atlas and their supporters (whom I expect to be out in force) will bring may shock our guys back into their 2022 form. That’s my hope at this point.

  5. I just hope that we will not have again 80% Mexicans in the stadium. My wife said she would walk out if that’s the case again tonight.

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