Atlanta United hosted Philadelphia Union on Sunday afternoon for an Eastern Conference matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. An early goal and an assist from Atlanta's star midfielder Thiago Almada gave the 5-Stripes the 2-0 win at home, where they remain undefeated against Philadelphia in MLS regular season play.
"Today, in MLS, any team can beat any team on a given day," Almada said, "but we're strong, and we responded in that way today, and I think this is the path we have to stay on."
Atlanta got on the board early after forward Giorgos Giakoumakis was brought down by a Union defender, earning Atlanta a free kick right outside the box. Almada, who has scored three goals this season from free kicks at around the same distance, aimed for his fourth but was blocked by Philadelphia's wall. However, the ball bounced right back to him, and he smashed the volley into the back of the net in the 7th minute of the match.
Almada leads MLS with six goals from outside the 18-yard box. He now has eight goals and 10 assists on the season.
Almada contributed to Atlanta's second goal of the night in the 79th minute. Unable to find a clear shot, Miguel Berry dropped the ball back to Almada at the top of the box. He swung it over to Brooks Lennon, wide open on the right side. Lennon slipped the ball near-post on the ground to put Atlanta up 2-0.
"To seal the deal 2-0, it always helps to shut the game down," Lennon said. "Mentally, you have to play all the way until the referee blows the final whistle, so really happy to get that goal for myself, but overall great performance from everyone."
Atlanta had multiple opportunities to extend the lead in the first half but was unable to put any away. Almada and Caleb Wiley both had breakaway runs that were shut down in the box. Giakoumakis got on the end of a cross from Lennon at the penalty spot, but his shot went right to Philly's goalkeeper Joe Bendik. Forward Machop Chol sent in a cross at the end of the half, but again, Bendik saved Miguel Berry's shot.
The search for another goal for Atlanta continued in the start of the second half. Almada looked like he would earn an assist off another set piece when his kick found the head of Luis Abram in the box, but Bendik was able to save that shot as well.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and the rest of Atlanta's defense had a strong performance to maintain the clean sheet against Philadelphia. Guzan made a save and intercepted multiple crosses to keep the ball out of the net. The backline made 15 clearances and maintained communication throughout the match to force Union offside five times.
Along with scoring his second goal of the season, Lennon made his 100th regular season appearance for Atlanta United since joining the club in 2019. He is only the fifth player in club history to reach the milestone, joining current teammates Guzan and Miles Robinson.
While Lennon has been a constant for Atlanta this season, the rest of lineup and formation looked a little different on Sunday. Striker Machop Chol and defender Ronald Hernández both made their return to the starting XI for the first time since May. Atlanta also started with three centerbacks instead of their usual two.
"We've been conceding many goals this year, and I felt like having an extra number there and without sacrificing the build up and the way we play," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "I think it worked. Of course, there are moments where we were stretched and things like that, but allowing this team only one shot on target is a massive accomplishment."
Up next – The 5-Stripes cross the border to face CF Montréal
Atlanta United will head to Canada for its match against CF Montréal on Saturday, July 8 at Stade Saputo. It will be the first time this season Atlanta plays Montréal, which sits just below Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings.