Atlanta United is one of the hottest teams in MLS having won seven of its last eight matches as the 5-Stripes head on the road to Philadelphia this weekend to take on the Union. The Eastern Conference standings reveal the importance of the match as Atlanta enters in sixth place with 36 points, while Philadelphia sits just one point behind in seventh. Atlanta is looking to continue its excellent form to push not only for a playoff spot, but also a place in the top-4 of the standings which would guarantee at least one home playoff match. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
Atlanta’s attack one of the hottest in the league
Atlanta United is coming off a perfect three-match homestand as they took all nine points and outscored opponents 10-2 in the process. The 10 goals scored since Gonzalo Pineda took over as head coach (Aug. 28) is tied for fifth in MLS in that time frame. Ezequiel Barco once again showcased his talent and skill as he curled in a direct free kick into the upper 90 to win MLS Goal of the Week for a third time this season. Barco became just the sixth player in MLS history to score direct free kick goals in back-to-back matches. No MLS player has ever scored a direct free kick goal in three-straight matches. The 5-Stripes will look to carry that momentum from home over to the road when they face Philadelphia, the team that eliminated them from the Concacaf Champions League earlier this season.
Solve the Diamond Shape; Keep eyes on Przybylko
The Philadelphia Union are coming off their first major trophy in 2020 when they captured the Supporters’ Shield. This season, the team is in a battle for one of the coveted seven playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Head Coach Jim Curtin plays nearly most of the matches with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, one of the only teams in the league to consistently play that formation. It will be a challenge for Atlanta United to figure out. Atlanta’s defense, led by MLS Defender of the Year contender Miles Robinson, will have to keep a close eye on the Union’s top scorer Kacper Przybylko. He leads the team with eight goals and two assists in MLS play. The striker also scored three goals in the two-leg CCL series win vs. Atlanta earlier this season. Shutting down Przybylko will be one of the keys on Saturday.
Capitalizing on Transition moments
Since the middle of July, Atlanta United ranks second in MLS in terms of total fast breaks according to Opta with 15. Only New England (16) has launched more fast breaks in that time period. Atlanta needs to continue to take advantage of those transition moments, especially when it travels on the road. That counter attack is helped by Atlanta United’s plethora of skill players. Luiz Araújo has already found some early success taking players on and dribbling past them with speed. Barco and Marcelino Moreno are two other players who consistently are able to dribble by opponents and create transition opportunities. Atlanta United leads MLS with a dribble success rate of 61.1% entering this weekend. The 5-Stripes need to continue to take advantage of those moments and capitalize with goals to keep this winning run going.
Fans can tune in nationally on Univision/TUDN on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 pm ET when the action kicks off at Subaru Park in Chester, Pa. To hear the action on radio, fans can tune in on Sports Radio 92.9 The Game.