This time there was no second half comeback.
Atlanta United scored 10 minutes into the game and sealed it 10 minutes from full time to end the Philadelphia Union’s season a way far too many of their games away from home have ended in the latter part of the season: with a zero on the board.
Head coach Jim Curtin made only one change to his starting lineup, inserting Fafa Picault for Andrew Wooten while again saving Marco Fabian as a second half sub. The decision nearly paid dividends in the 17th minute when Brenden Aaronson had a chance to score on Brad Guzan for a third time this season when Sergio Santos set him up with a cross in the box. This time Guzan was able to make a fine stop with his leg on the would be equalizer.
Despite some bright attacking moments and a couple shouts for penalties the Union weren’t able to create many more clear chances like it before Josef Martinez sealed the victory for the Five Stripes with a quick strike off a counter attack in the 80th minute.
Andre Blake, who was at fault for at least two of the three goals surrendered in Sunday’s win over the Red Bulls, had another rough start when he got caught off his line and chipped by Julian Gressel for the first goal, but he was immense in the second half when the Union needed him to keep the Atlanta lead to one. On one sequence, the Jamaica international was able to make two big stops before a Josef Martinez shot sailed wide of the post.
Josef had several chances to stretch the lead that missed the mark, but rattled the dagger off the post and in to end the Union’s season short of what could have been another home playoff game in Chester next Wednesday night against Toronto FC.
The Josef goal — his 7th in 7 games against the Union — was a particularly painful moment given the misfortune the Union have had losing their leading goal-scorer, Kacper Przybylko, to a foot injury that forced him out of the final three games of the campaign.
It was also a reminder of the gulf between the two teams — one ecstatic just being there after finally winning a playoff game for the first time in 10 seasons and a third-year team whose fans were wearing crowns in the stands to pay homage to a player (Martinez) whose transfer fee alone ($8.55 million) is more than the sum of the salaries of the players taking the field for the Union.
The shutout was the sixth in the last eight games away from home for the Union, which suffered road shutouts in losses to Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United dating back to July 13. Their only two road wins during that span were a 5-1 win over D.C. United and a 2-1 comeback win in San Jose.
In the end, it was a frustrating and disappointing result for a team that had made a habit of pulling off improbable victories this season while feeding off their underdog role proving conventional wisdom even from within the team’s own fanbase wrong. Still, with the season now over, fans have a lot to look back on and be proud of, including the biggest ever point haul for the team and they can rest in the fact that the playoff win monkey is finally off their back.
Bring on 2020.