Coming off a quality road win at Orlando City SC in midweek, Atlanta United is back in front of its fans on Saturday afternoon as they get ready to take on Philadelphia Union at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s already been a six-point week for the 5-Stripes, who have pushed themselves within two points of the Eastern Conference playoff line. To make it a nine-point week, Atlanta will have to do something very few teams have been able to do this season: defeat the Philadelphia Union. The Union lead the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings with 63 points, while they have only lost four matches all season. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Philadelphia Union.
Let “El Mago” run the attacking show
Thiago Almada, nicknamed “El Mago” - The Magician, by some in the ATL UTD community, has had an outstanding first season with the 5-Stripes. He has scored back-to-back game-winning goals for Atlanta and now sits with six goals and 11 assists on the season. His creativity, passing and finishing have been on a high level all season. His strike from outside the box against Toronto last weekend earned him MLS Goal of the Week honors.
His play has caught the eye of the Argentine federation as well, as Almada was called into the Argentine Senior National Team for the first time in his career during the upcoming International window. He’s the only Argentine who plays in MLS to earn that call up, just a couple months before the 2022 FIFA World Cup. If Almada can find time and space against a tough Union defense, Atlanta will have a better chance to keep the three points at home.
Slow down the league’s top attack
It’s been a season to remember so far for the Philadelphia Union. After winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2020, the Union are currently in the driver’s seat to take home another shield. They have done it on both ends all season long, featuring the highest-scoring attack (68 goals) and best defense (22 goals conceded) in MLS.
The team’s attack has really picked it up over the last five matches, scoring 23 goals in that time span, far and away the best mark in the league. Atlanta’s defense, which recorded its first clean sheet since July 30 last time out, will have to be aware of the attacking variety and power this Union side brings to the table.
Don’t allow easy transition opportunities to the Union
Atlanta will have the majority of possession on Saturday afternoon and will need to convert that possession into scoring chances throughout the match. But more importantly, Atlanta can’t give away the ball cheaply and fuel Philadelphia’s excellent transition attack. The Union rank 26th in MLS in possession at 43.4% but they are the best team in the league in turning over opponents in their attacking third and quickly converting those turnovers into scoring opportunities. Atlanta’s passing and decision making needs to be sharp on Saturday afternoon against a Union side that will be rested. If Atlanta can avoid easy turnovers and make the Union work for their scoring chances, the 5-Stripes will have an excellent opportunity to turn a good week into a great week ahead of the international break.
Fans can tune-in nationally on Unimas/TUDN for Spanish TV coverage. Fans can also watch on Twitter for English language coverage as Atlanta United hosts Philadelphia Union at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream the match.