Following an impressive 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire, the Philadelphia Union hoped to notch another three points in their belt on Saturday night, but they ran into the best side in the East in Atlanta United FC.
There were a decent number of changes tonight with the front three from Chicago being swapped out for CJ Sapong, Fafa Picault, and Marcus Epps. Furthermore, Gaddis moved to right back week with Fabinho’s return tot he lineup.
The match started off with a competitive back-and-forth from both sides. An early chance came to Atlanta in the 1st minute, but the Union responded with decent pressure. Bedoya was given a yellow in the 11th after a smart foul to start a counter. Overall, there was not much action in the first 15.
That all changed in the 18th minute. Auston Trusty fouled Josef Martinez in the box, forcing a penalty. However, that’s not the main story. As Martinez prepared for the penalty, the referee suddenly pulled out several yellows and reds towards Union players. Confusion reigned over the announcers, the fans, and the players. By the end, it was confirmed that Bedoya was shown a second yellow and Medunjanin was given a red for suspected talking back to the referee, reducing the Union to nine men. Soon after, Martinez buried the penalty for Atlanta making it 1-0. It was his 10th for the season.
Haris Medunjanin had this to say following the game on the referee’s decision to allow the penalty and send him off: “To rob us like this, you know, everybody gets criticized. The players, the coaches, so why should the referees not get criticized?”
At this point in the game, it was a matter of pure survival. A draw with nine men would have been a great result. Following the chaos, the Union buckled down. Even though shots came flying at Andre Blake and the Union defense, the most prevalent of which being the waived-off goal for Martinez in the 31st minute and the Gressel crossbar hit in the 36th. Even with nine men, the Union got off a few chances with a close shot from Fafa Picault going wide right in the 35th.
The Union went into the half only down 1-0. Holding one of the most explosive attacks in the MLS, with the MLS-leading scorer Martinez (nine goals going into the game), to one goal off a penalty with only nine men is genuinely one of the most impressive feats from the Union this season.
Coming into the second half, the first 10 minutes of play were going to give us a clear understanding of how the rest of the game would shape out. In the 49th minute, the pressure proved too much for the Union as Martinez banged in his second goal, his 11th of the season, to make it 2-0.
When it all seemed to be going downhill, a cross into Fafa Picault saw the Union finally get onto the board as Fafa bulleted one past Guzan to make it 2-1.
The rest of the half saw massive pressure from Atlanta, who had created so many chances yet failed to execute throughout the half following their early goal. Multiple shots went off the crossbar or wide. Their finishing tonight was poor to say the least.
However, that should not take away from the effort shown by the Union throughout the game following the 2 reds. An excellent performance in regards to effort.
The final blow came to the Union in the 82nd minute as Fabinho was called for a handball in the box leading to a penalty for Atlanta. Martinez buried his third goal of the game, the fifth hat trick of his career (tied for the most in MLS history), making it 3-1. That was too much for the Union to come back from with only nine men and most of their energy spent. It was a somewhat aggravating loss as Atlanta did not play their best. Only scoring three times with 31 shots against nine men when two of the three goals were penalties is not impressive.
The effort from the Union never died tonight, which has to be the main takeaway from this game. It could have easily been 6-0, 7-0, or even more. The effort never ceased even into stoppage time as Andre Blake made a world-class save in the dying minutes of an already lost game.
Head Coach Jim Curtin put it best in his post-game presser as he first addressed the effort from the boys, “They left everything on the field. [They] gave the city everything, gave the badge everything and gave me everything. Could not be prouder of the heart that they showed.”
Credit to all the players for the effort this evening. A truly heartbreaking result, but it goes without question that I have never been more proud of a 3-1 loss.
The Union take on the Richmond Kickers this Tuesday and Toronto FC this Friday, both at home.