Atlanta United traveled to Subaru Park for the first matchup of the season against the Eastern Conference leaders, Philadelphia Union. The visitors conceded a goal early but put together a gutsy response to find the equalizer. However, Philadelphia Union ran away with it in the second half and Atlanta United fell 4-1.
First half – Philadelphia Union jumps out to early lead, Atlanta United answers behind Andrew Gutman's goal
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda went with a similar starting XI that he’s rolled with the past two matches with one exception. Midfielder Franco Ibarra got the start in place of Amar Sejdić who started the last two matches for the 5-Stripes.
Early, Atlanta created a counterattack after defender Juanjo Purata came up with a big block on the defensive third. The 5-Stripes connected well, holding possession in their attacking third. The spell resulted in two shots for Thiago Almada that were both blocked but showed Atlanta’s ability to create chances against a strong Philadelphia side that has outscored opponents 16-2 in their previous four matches.
In the 15th minute, Atlanta United produced another dangerous moment. Almada had a takeaway that led to a fast break and 4v3 opportunity. Almada dished the ball to Caleb Wiley on the wing. The 17-year-old whipped it into the box for the streaking attackers, but Philadelphia cleared the ball out-of-bounds for an Atlanta United corner kick.
Pineda received a yellow card. On the next play, Philadelphia advanced the ball and left it for Julián Carranza at the top of the box in a crowded area. His low, efficient shot evaded the dive of Atlanta goalkeeper Rocco Ríos Novo and rolled into the corner of the net. The home side went ahead 1-0 in the 18th minute.
Playing from behind didn’t deter the 5-Stripes and the team kept finding areas in the attack. Atlanta combined for an opportunity that resulted in a shot from Luiz Araújo. The shot was blocked by a defender, but the rebound trickled in the middle of the box for Almada. His shot was blocked also, saved by goalkeeper Andre Blake, but defender Andrew Gutman showed his commitment and came flying in to clean it up, making a diving header to even the match 1-1 in the 24th minute.
The goal was Gutman’s third in the last six matches.
Atlanta United worked hard and made a few crucial tackles. In what looked like the go-ahead goal, Philadelphia Union create a fast break opportunity. A ball over the top left Purata alone in a 2v1 situation. Ríos Novo came out, but Dániel Gazdag’s shot dribbled by him. Then, defender Lennon recovered just in time and cleared the ball off the line to keep the match even.
It looked like Atlanta United would head into halftime even with the Eastern Conference leaders. However, Philadelphia Union continued to test Atlanta's backline and found the go-ahead goal on a corner kick. The ball trickled through the box and found Mikael Uhre all alone on the far side. The striker's deflected shot got past Ríos Novo to lift Philadelphia ahead 2-1 going into the second 45.
Second half – Josef Martínez enters the match, Philadelphia Union extends the lead
Kicking off the second 45, Atlanta United looked to add to the five shots it put on goal in the first half. In the 58th minute, Wiley showed some fancy footwork on the end line, beating his defender 1v1. Wiley dished the ball to Almada lingering in the center of the box but Almada’s one-touch shot went high on goal.
As Atlanta United played from behind, Pineda made his first change of the match an attacking substitution. Josef Martínez, the club’s all-time leading scorer, replaced Cisneros in the 61st minute.
On an extended series for Philadelphia’s attack, Atlanta United struggled to clear the ball, which resulted in the Union increasing their lead to two in the 67th minute. On a cross, Ríos Novo came out but wasn’t able to collect the ball or punch it out of danger. The ball bounced inside the box and Gazdag put it away for his 17th goal of the season. Philadelphia went ahead 3-1.
Pineda made a few more second-half substitutions. In the 69th minute, Marcelino Moreno and Edwin Mosquera replaced Wiley and Ibarra. Then in the 75th minute, Dwyer came on for Araújo.
Even with a two-goal lead, Philadelphia continued to press and look for more. On a set piece in the 77th minute, forward Cory Burke nearly extended the lead with a header on frame but it hit the post. In the 86th minute, Jack Elliott hit a well-driven shot on goal that was collected by Ríos Novo. Philadelphia Union continued to attack and extended the lead in second-half stoppage time when Nathan Harriel scored his first career goal.
In the end, Philadelphia Union proved their prowess in front of a home crowd, preventing Atlanta United from adding to the five shots on goal it took in the first half, and the 5-Stripes fell 4-1 to the Eastern Conference leaders.
Up next – Atlanta United goes coast-to-coast for second straight road match
The 5-Stripes have to turn it around quickly. They go coast-to-coast to face their final Western Conference opponent of the season Portland Timbers on Sunday. Then, they return to Atlanta for one of only three home matches remaining in the regular season.