With two Cups already in the trophy cabinet, there’s no time to rest for Atlanta United (15-9-3), who now hit the road for a crucial Eastern Conference matchup against the Philadelphia Union (14-8-6). The Five Stripes will need strong minds to push past tired legs, but if they can get one more win over a key rival in their race for the top seed in the East, they will head into a well-deserved week off on a high note as they enter the international break.
Ahead of the major intraconference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Lock Down the Wings
Polish striker Kacper Pryzybylko has been sensational since joining the Union a year ago, leading the team with twelve goals so far this season. But he is just the tip of the spear for this Union attack, and shutting down his service can go a long way toward shutting down Philadelphia. Fafa Picault has been one of the most consistent producers in the league from the wing position over the past few seasons, combining dynamic runs with a good eye for the final pass in the final third. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Brenden Aaronson has been one of the breakout players in the league this season and Brazilian dribbling maestro Ilsinho brings another dimension as a substitute. In short, the wide areas are where Philadelphia’s attack starts and shines, so the Five Stripes will have to be sure not to leave too much space open on the flanks. If they can shut down those wide options, they could be well on their way to yet another clean sheet this season.
Capitalize on a Key Absence
The Philadelphia Union’s success this year has been built on the collective over outstanding individual play, but they will be missing a key member of the squad this weekend in U.S. international and team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Head coach Jim Curtin will be forced to shuffle his pack, and while he has replacements readily available, losing one of the best two-way midfielders in the league will be a big blow. If Atlanta United can exploit that space with the fluid, inter-changing runs of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martínez, they could find dangerous pockets of space in that key area in front of the Union back line to create chances on goal.
Seize the Game
It’s no secret that the matches are piling up for Atlanta United, and with another grueling midweek match –– while the Union got to rest for the week –– the Five Stripes will have to battle through tired legs for the final test before the international break. It will be key for Atlanta United to be mentally prepared from the opening whistle and jump onto the front foot. If they can get on the board with the first goal, they can avoid a grueling, leg-draining comeback in Philadelphia. With Josef Martinez now at twelve straight matches with a goal, they know they can score against anyone. If they are switched on from the opening whistle and grab the first goal, it could be a huge mental break for the team as they look for a win in a tough road environment.
It's two teams in need of a win as they fight for top spot in the East, so it’s yet another can’t-miss match for any Atlanta United fan. If you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune into the match.