Atlanta United traveled a few hours up I-95 looking to wash away the bitter taste of a 1-0 defeat to DC on Wednesday night. Truthfully, Atlanta was coming off of four performances where they struggled to click offensively, having scored just three goals in the past four matches. In an effort to spark the attack, Tata Martino made an adjustment to his lineup playing Miguel Almiron wide on the left with Yamil Asad playing as a central attacking midfielder.
For their part, the Philadelphia Union were coming off of a stretch of games with inconsistent results. One week the club looks like they could beat any team in MLS, the next they completely disappear as they did against Toronto on Wednesday night.
Sensing the need for change, manager Jim Curtain made five changes to the lineup that lost 3-0 in Toronto midweek. The lineup emphasized size, something the team has in abundance with players like center back Jack Elliot, midfielder Haris Medunjanin, and forward C.J. Sapong at times towering over Atlanta’s smaller, speedier players.
The match started sloppily with both sides failing to impose themselves on their opponent. For Atlanta, the team struggled to find their footing early with few chances in the first fifteen minutes of the half. The Five Stripes did manage a breakaway down the right sideline when Anton Walkes found Miguel Almiron streaking through the edge of the 18 yard box, he cut a pass back to Tito Villalba who sent a shot over the crossbar.
For their part, the Union looked content to absorb pressure, try to cut off Atlanta’s passing lanes in their defensive third, and push forward with numbers when Atlanta lost the ball. Their strategy paid off in the 18th minute when Giliano Wijnaldum lofted a ball through the Atlanta penalty area that found Roland Alberg who chested it down and slapped a shot past a diving Brad Guzan.
Things would only get worse for United as a corner kick from Roland Alberg in the 23rd minute was deflected off of Jack Elliot and Alejandro Bedoya managed to get a boot on the ball as he dove with his back facing away from goal. The U.S. international seemingly turned himself invisible as either Chris McCann or Anton Walkes lost their mark giving him a chance to double the Union lead.
The match would barely get back underway when Atlanta United answered with a goal of their own three minutes later. A short corner was played to Greg Garza whose cross found Josef Martinez. The Atlanta striker showed off his lion-like leaping ability and sent a diving header into the path of Yamil Asad, who was inexplicably unmarked on the left side of the Union penalty area. The Argentine sent a goal of the week candidate past Andre Blake that would have landed in New Jersey if not for the net containing its power. It was a classic goal for Atlanta with the left side of the attack coming to life for the first time in weeks.
What a strike— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 26, 2017
Josef's header is perfect and Yamil only needs one touch! pic.twitter.com/w0RzplBH3J
As the remaining time ticked off of the half, each team had few opportunities. Overall, the Five Stripes headed into the locker room looking like they had regained some of the form that alluded the attack in the past two matches. The press was effective in creating turnovers, they broke dangerously on transition, and the size factor did not seem to be an issue for the team.
With the start of the second half Atlanta came out with much more confidence leading to a man advantage in the 52nd minute. Josef Martinez was played through and completely out classed his marker Josh Yaro. The Union center back pulled Josef down as he looked to be clear through for a one on one with Andre Blake. Referee Drew Fischer immediately pulled out his red card and sent Yaro off. Philly then substituted Roland Alberg for defender Richie Marquez.
In the 59th minute Tata Martino would make a substitution of his own when he pulled Michael Parkhurst for Julian Gressel as the team searched for an equalizer. It nearly came just one minute later when Yamil Asad played Josef Martinez through whose shot was blocked by Blake. In addition to the player change, Atlanta changed shape with Almiron moving centrally and Jeff Larentowicz taking Parkhurst’s place in central defense.
Despite being down a man, Philly almost went up 3-1 when Chris Pontius played pass into C.J. Sapong just near the penalty spot in the 72nd minute. The Union forward chested it down and fired a blistering shot that forced Brad Guzan to make save keeping Atlanta to within one.
As the game reached its final 15 minutes, Tata Martino again went to the bench replacing Tito Villalba for Jacob Peterson and Anton Walkes for Tyrone Mears. Atlanta was not able to produce much in the way of chances until Josef Martinez nearly connected on a bicycle kick in the 84th minute. Philly made their final sub taking off forward Fafa Picault for midfielder Warren Creavalle as they looked to lock down the game.
For the remaining five minutes, the Union defended Atlanta’s crosses and blocked passing lanes, sending the ball fifty yards from their net whenever they gained possession. As the game struck 90 minutes, it looked like a second consecutive loss was inevitable. In an unexpected turn of luck in stoppage time, Andre Blake came out of his goal to punch away a hopeful cross by Greg Garza that flew into the path of Tyrone Mears who became an unlikely hero when he headed the ball into the net to bring the score even at two.