After an almost perfect first four games of the season, Atlanta United has been brought down to earth recently. The Five Stripes fell 3-0 to the Philadelphia Union in the first leg of the CCL quarter-finals before being thoroughly outplayed in a 2-1 defeat against New England over the weekend. To add insult to injury (technically the opposite in this case), Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm went down with injuries in Foxborough. Atlanta doesn’t get any time to heal its wounds however, and is back in the Northeast Tuesday to take on Philly in the second leg and try to save its aggregate-reputation.
But despite the lopsided scoreline last week, Atlanta was by far the better side in the first half and only crumbled after naively throwing numbers forward. Should the Five Stripes repeat that first half performance tomorrow but add the finishing component, things could get interesting. The sloppy and disjointed showing against New England would say otherwise, however. Atlanta is averaging a mere goal a game and has only two open play tallies all season, so a comeback of any kind might be something even the most optimistic wouldn’t put money on.
The Union also lost over the weekend, going down 2-0 to NYCFC after an early Jose Martinez red card. Philly has lost its last two MLS games and is in the surprisingly low position of 12th. Its Supporters Shield defense has gotten off to a rocky start, but priotizing CCL play has well-known side effects.
Predicted Starting XIs
With Barco and Damm likely out, Gabriel Heinze’s hand is forced. The midfield trio of Sosa-Hyndman-Ibarra looks set to get its second start in a row, with Hyndman in the more advanced role. Moreno and Mulraney are the only available wingers, while Josef was rested Saturday. Bello and Robinson also started on the bench against the Revs. The main question mark is who patterns Robinson in central defense, Walkes or Franco. Considering the latter was yanked at halftime, Walkes appears to have moreso earned Heinze’s trust.
Prediction: Philadelphia Union 0-0 Atlanta United
If the tradition of 3-0 first leg defeats has to continue, why can’t the second leg victory run also persevere? Well, based off Saturday I could give you quite a few reasons. Atlanta will hustle and bustle, but Philadelphia’s defense once again won’t be broken down and it will be Union progressing to the CCL semifinals.