ATANTA UNITED FC (18-12-4) VS. UNION (16-11-7)
8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, TVAS, TSN4, ESPN-D
The Philadelphia Union hope to ride the momentum of wild comeback win in the first round of the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference playoffs into the next round against host Atlanta United on Thursday night.
It figures to be a difficult task to win on the road inside raucous Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the defending MLS Cup champions. But the Union are confident after erasing a pair of two-goal deficits and scoring the game winner in extra time last Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.
“We know this stadium is fantastic and full, and the support is good,” Marco Fabian, who scored the Union’s winning goal against New York, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “For myself, it’s also good when you have a lot of people against you … it’s a motivation for you. So we are focused on our job, and we know we can win.”
In its 10th season of existence, Philadelphia hopes to build on its first-ever postseason win after three previous losses. But fatigue and short rest between games could be a factor. The Union played Sunday, and their game lasted 120-plus minutes, while Atlanta defeated the New England Revolution 1-0 in regulation time last Saturday.
Atlanta United have been to the postseason in each of their three seasons of existence, with one championship already in their trophy case.
The Five Stripes are led by Josef Martinez, who scored 27 goals in the regular season on the heels of a then-record 31 in 2018. Martinez will be a focal point of the Union’s defensive plan.
Fifty-two of Martinez’s 81 goals in an Atlanta uniform, including postseason games, have come at home.
Atlanta’s defensive depth could be tested without a pair of central defenders, Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson. Both are out due to injury.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan recorded 14 regular-season shutouts to tie for the MLS lead in the regular season. He has started in goal in every one of Atlanta United’s postseason games in their history.
“Anything can happen in one game,” defender Florentin Pogba told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “The advantage that I do think we have is playing at home in front of our fans. That’s going to be important for us. We know it’s going to be a great game. Philadelphia’s a difficult opponent. They beat us at their house this season. The fans will be important.”
The sides drew 1-1 in the only meeting in Atlanta during the regular season, with Ezequiel Barco scoring the equalizer for the Five Stripes in the 70th minute.
–Field Level Media