The Five Stripes’ marathon opening stretch of 6 matches in 18 days comes to its final leg this weekend as Atlanta United (0-1-1) tries to get their first win of the season against the visiting Philadelphia Union (0-2-0). The red, black and gold will hope a packed home crowd can revitalize tired legs and push them to a valuable three points ahead of the first international break of the season.
Ahead of the Eastern Conference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Atlanta United may have fallen out of the Concacaf Champion’s League in their midweek loss against Rayados, but to hand the Mexican side their first loss of the calendar year gave the Five Stripes plenty to build on for the rest of the season. Head coach Frank de Boer’s tweaks to the system put the Liga MX giants on their heels all night in what was the team’s best performance of the season to date. It’s a long season and this team’s just at the beginning. If they can keep improving every match and recreate that form starting this weekend, this Sunday –– and this season –– could be another special one in Atlanta.
Break down the Block
The last time the Philadelphia Union came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium they lost two players early due to red cards. While the scoreline was comfortable in the end for Atlanta United, they weren’t able to break down the Union’s deep-lying defense as much as they’d like. Especially with Philly’s newly-signed attacking midfielder Marco Fabian suspended for the match due to a red card earned last week, fans can probably expect a similarly-defensive lineup from the visitors on Sunday. Breaking down that defensive position proved difficult for the Five Stripes in week one this year, but Frank de Boer said after the match that a little more movement from the front line to make runs behind the defense would be the key to unlocking packed defenses. We saw signs of that aggressive forward movement starting to gel against Monterrey, but it will be yet another challenge against a team that could be set up primarily to defend and counter.
Atlanta United has played three matches in front of their home crowd so far this year, and in each they’ve gotten off to a hot start: a goal in the first minute against Herediano, a goal in the first five against Cincinnati, and one of the team’s best chances of the game against Monterrey in the first ten minutes on Wednesday. That kind of hot start can disrupt Philly’s entire gameplan before they can settle in and get a rhythm, forcing them to push forward to get a goal of their own and spreading out their compact defense for a chance in transition. It also makes Atlanta United’s already-imposing home field advantage that much more intimidating as it jolts the raucous home crowd into the cauldron of noise that it’s been so many times before.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 7 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. You can watch the match on FOX Sports South, stream it on FOX Sports GO or listen in on Star 94.1 or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.