Battle for the East: Philadelphia Union vs Atlanta United

Philadelphia, PA—Jim Curtain showed his tactical acumen, particularly with second-half substitution Sergio Santos, who recorded a goal and an assist to lead the Philadelphia Union to a 3-1 victory over Atlanta United and into 1st place in the Eastern Conference.


Cheered by rowdy home supporters, the Union showed their mettle against the other top team in the East. Atlanta United entered this game having won the U.S. Open Cup midweek, followed by a now Instagram-famous locker-room celebration after.


Four nights later, the Union and their fans celebrated this time. Said Curtain, “it’s appropriate as the fireworks are going off. Thank you to all the fans tonight…I thought they really pushed us on.” Emblematic of the jovial mood, Union fans were seen in Hammer pants dancing under the stands as they exited.


To start the night, temperatures in the 70s and the sun setting over the river just beyond the southeast corner of Talen Energy Stadium provided an apt climate for soccer. In front of a sellout crowd of 28,510, the top two teams in MLS’s Eastern Conference showed how closely they compare.


The first half stayed close, with Atlanta dominating possession at nearly 65% but Philadelphia throwing dangerous waves of counterattacks. Philadelphia took over the game in the second half, however, and the feeling in the stadium was of how long Atlanta could hold off the Union attack. Ultimately, Atlanta’s defense capitulated in the 86th minute.


Sergio Santos penetrated to the goal line and played a cross back toward the penalty spot to Kacper Przybylko (pronounced ‘CAS-per shi-BIL-ko’). Przybylko placed a perfect one-touch right-footed shot into the top left corner, beating Brad Guzan at his near post. Two minutes later, Philadelphia caught Atlanta in transition, and this time Santos scored himself to seal the Union win at 3-1.


Atlanta United’s goal came in the second minute of first-half stoppage time and against the run of play. As Philadelphia dominated much of the possession approaching the end of the half, Darlington Nagbe ran through the midfield and passed to Josef Martinez, who played a one-two with Pity Martinez that led Josef open on goal. Josef slid to his left past Andre Blake and rolled the ball coolly into the net.


The score was Josef’s 23rd goal of the season and extended his MLS consecutive game scoring record to 13. The first half ended 1-0 in favor of Atlanta.


In the 61st minute, Philadelphia scored the equalizer. Haris Medunjanin tackled the ball off Atlanta United in midfield, then turned and chipped it behind Atlanta’s back line. Brenden Aaronson received the pass at the right side of the goal box and shot past Brad Guzan’s right side to even the score at 1-1.

Ultimately Curtain summed up the performance by saying “I think we made a pretty big statement about what the Philadelphia Union is all about tonight.”


The teams now enter the international break; both will have several players out for national team duties. Lorenzo González-Pirez received a yellow card in the third minute of second-half stoppage time and will miss Atlanta’s next game for yellow-card accumulation.


For Atlanta, Josef Martinez required medical attention late into the second half for an apparent left knee injury after a collision with Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake. He will not report for national team duties, and his knee will benefit from the rest.


Atlanta United next hosts Columbus Crew on Saturday September 14th at 7:00pm. Philadelphia Union also play next on September 14th when they host MLS-leading LAFC at 7:30pm.