The 5-Stripes went on the road Wednesday with a playoff spot already secured looking to catch Philadelphia Union, who entered the match just two points ahead of Atlanta in the standings, and jump into a top-4 spot in the conference. Atlanta United conceded three first-half goals to the defending Eastern Conference champions but fought back and scored two goals in the second 45. However, it wasn't quite enough and Atlanta United lost to Philadelphia Union 3-2 at Subaru Park.
Both clubs have qualified already for the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. With the result Atlanta United doesn't pick up any points and remains at 49 in the season. A win tonight would've helped Atlanta in the club's quest to finish in fourth place or better in the Eastern Conference and secure home field advantage in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Atlanta United sits in sixth place with two matches remaining in the regular season.
"I will say that I need that kind of response and performance we had for the other 89 minutes of the game and that type of performance will give us advantage in the final two matches. That’s how we want and should play," Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda said.
Atlanta United nearly opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Brooks Lennon sent a ball into the box from the right flank that was lightly tapped by Giorgos Giakoumakis inside the box. The striker’s touch teed up a shot on goal for Tristan Muyumba, and the midfielder put a forceful shot on frame with his left foot. However, the Union’s star veteran goalkeeper Andre Blake made the stop to keep the visitors off the board.
Moments later, it was the Union who scored. Following a shot that rebounded inside the box, Philadelphia's Dániel Gazdag made an acrobatic finish to open the scoring and give the home team a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute. It was the midfielder's 14th goal of the season, one off the Golden Boot leaders which for the moment include Atlanta's Giakoumakis. (Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati scored his 16th goal of the season later Saturday to take sole possession of the lead. Giakoumakis finished the night scoreless and remains at 15.)
After that the floodgates opened for the home team and Philadelphia extended their lead. Following a transition moment, Mikael Uhre scored on a low shot driven into the bottom corner past Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Then, Julián Carranza scored a goal of his own in first-half stoppage time. Within a 10-minute span, the Union scored three times to go into the second 45 with a 3-0 lead.
“I challenged my players at halftime to see some reaction," Pineda said. "We know that we lost control of the game in the last six minutes of the first half. But tonight, three penalties should have been called and only one was called."
Atlanta United got one back early in the second half after a handball was called inside the box on Philadelphia Union. (The handball was not called initially on the play but was checked over VAR.) Thiago Almada stepped up to take the penalty kick and drilled it past Blake to put Atlanta United on the board and make the score 3-1 in the 56th minute. It was Almada's 11th goal of the season, his second on a PK.
Down two goals, Atlanta continued to search for a finish that would cut into Philadelphia's lead, and in the 77th minute they found it. In the attack, Edwin Mosquera, who entered the match as a second half substitute, played a ball to Lennon on the right edge of the box. Mosquera continued his run into the box and found himself in good position when Muyumba's shot off Lennon's cross required a stop from Blake. Mosquera collected the rebound and finished to make the score 3-2.
The goal is the 22-year-old's third in the last six matches for Atlanta United and his second in as many games.
“I think how I’ve been training and how the group is treating me and that’s why it’s happening," Mosquera said. “We’re always happy and laughing and that transmits. We’re united on and off the field and that transmits on the field.”
In the closing moments of the match, Atlanta searched for the equalizer. Jamal Thiaré, coming on for Giakoumakis as a substitute in the 73rd minute, put a header off a corner kick that went over the bar. In second-half stoppage time, Jay Fortune, who also came on as a sub, got a solid foot on the ball after Almada played him on a set piece. The Homegrown's shot appeared to be on frame, but it was deflected out of play.
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda went with the same starting XI he used for the team's 4-1 win over CF Montréal on September 23. Xande Silva and Tristan Muyumba made the starting lineup as did all three designated players -- Giakoumakis, Almada and Saba Lobjanidze. Derrick Etienne Jr. made the matchday roster and came on as a sub in the second half for his first appearance since July 15.
Shots on target
Up next -- Atlanta United hosts Columbus Crew on Saturday
The 5-Stripes return home for their second match of the week Saturday in a meeting with Columbus Crew. It's another important matchup against an Eastern Conference club for Atlanta United as the team looks to finish the regular season strong.