CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union wanted to be respected by the big boys in Major League Soccer. Saturday night’s comeback home win over defending MLS champions Atlanta United should now put the rest of the league on high alert.
A 3-1 success over the Five Stripes at Talen Energy Stadium saw the Union earn their first win over their opponents. Despite conceding a first-half goal to Josef Martinez, the Union rallied to score three unanswered goals to clinch a playoff berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Now the club will prepare for a Sept. 14th showdown with current Supporters Shield leaders, LAFC.
“Thank you to the fans tonight, everybody who made this place incredible and special” Curtin said. “I think they [the fans] pushed us through. These players deserve all the credit. Every challenge that we’re up against they give their all. They found a way to raise their level and they leave everything on the field. Talen Energy is becoming the place to be in September and October and we’re playing meaningful matches against good teams”
“Full credit to our players, they went toe to toe against the league champions. I am a proud coach right now. I think we made a pretty big statement about what the Philadelphia Union is all about. We have homegrowns leading us, our veterans carrying the weight without our captain on the field. It’s a great three points and we probably set ourselves up to host a home playoff game. The first real test of this important two-game stretch I think we get an A+.”
The Union had their chances in the opening half, but the ball didn’t bounce in their favor. Marco Fabian struck the crossbar, Kacper Przybylko hit the left post, and Five Stripes goalkeeper Brad Guzan kept the Union at bay. Atlanta pressured the Union and eventually a nice 1-2 between Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez put Frank de Boer’s side in front.
“It was a moment to be positive, we came into the halftime break down but we had chances. Kacper hit the post, Marco hit the bar, we had chances,” Curtin said. “We didn’t pass the ball well in the first half and we couldn’t find that final ball. Overall it was deflating to let up a goal before halftime, but it gave encouragement that we could go toe-to-toe with them. We needed to raise the bar in the second-half and I think we did.”
Haris Medunjanin’s over the top ball allowed Brenden Aaronson to score his second goal of the season against the Five Stripes. It was a masterful performance from Medunjanin, who played an even bigger role with captain Alejandro Bedoya suspended due to yellow card accumulation. He ran the show in midfield and was pinging passes to every part of the pitch and was rewarded with his 10th assist of the season.
Curtin called on the likes of Sergio Santos to add a spark to the match late and the Brazilian did just that. Nine minutes after coming on, Santos connected with Przybylko who one-timed a shot into the top corner. The German would return the favor after the restart, assisting on Santos’ first goal since May 29th. The goal also iced a 3-1 win for the Union, one that gives them a three point lead in the East over the Five Stripes.
“We had some chances in the first-half that didn’t go our way,” Medunjanin said. “We had some counter attacks but the final pass went astray in the first-half. We got a little down after they scored, but we knew they were going to be tired in the second-half. After 60 minutes we knew they were tired and we could make some extra passes, especially in midfield. We showed MLS that we are not a fraud team and we can play against anybody, especially at home.”
“What a support from the fans tonight, we were losing 1-0 and they helped us get back into it. It was also an amazing comeback for Sergio Santos tonight and I am happy for the team,” Przybylko said. “This win gives us a lot of confidence. LAFC I wish you guys a lot of luck. This is our house, this is our stadium, and we have some great support. We’re waiting for you guys.”
In season’s past this is a match the Philadelphia Union would’ve coughed up at home, but 2019 has been a new sight. The team is playing with confidence and aren’t afraid to lie down against the top sides in MLS. Underrated performers like Przybylko and Jamiro Monteiro have stepped up, as well as youngsters Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie.
Now with two wins in a row and four in their last five, the team will try to fine-tune their skills for the postseason. A friendly against Liga MX side Pumas comes next on Sept. 7th before a date with LAFC takes place the following weekend. The goal surely will be to continue riding this positive wave before the postseason begins come mid October.
“The players were fearless out there tonight and that’s how they’ve been all season,” Curtin said. “We will respect teams, but we will not fear them and that was visible again tonight. We have a pair of home games left against LAFC and NYCFC, two very good teams in this league that will only help us get better. The best way to get ready for the playoffs is to go up against the teams who you will look to beat in the postseason.”