For much of Saturday night’s match, it seemed like the Union just couldn’t get it right. It was a match that some had labeled the biggest in Union history, and they played some nervy football throughout the evening. But despite all of the missed opportunities throughout the night, the Union took care of business when it counted on the way to a massive 3-1 victory over Atlanta United.
For almost the entirety of the first half, both sides appeared to be on equal footing. Neither defense was flawless and each team had several good opportunities to attack the goal.
Atlanta’s Josef Martinez had two open looks in the first half that you’d expect one of Major League Soccer’s top goal scorers to put away easily. But he sent an unmarked header wide in the 24th minute and put another shot just over the crossbar in the 28th.
The Union missed their share of chances as well. Marco Fabian banged an early shot off of the crossbar in the 10th minute and a Kacper Przybylko shot bounced off the right post in the 45th. It appeared that the Union found a go-ahead goal in the 33rd minute, but it was waived off through VAR when it was shown that Fabian was just offside during the buildup.
It appeared that the teams were about to head to the locker rooms stuck at nil-nil until Josef Martinez got one last chance for Atlanta. This time he wouldn’t miss his opportunity as he sliced and diced the Union defense on a give and go with Darlington Nagbe before tapping in his finish past Andre Blake. A short defensive breakdown completely changed the complexion of the match heading into the half.
The second half started much like the first as the Union’s chances continued to fizzle out due to indecision or a poor final pass. Fafa Picault was heavily involved in the attack, but his chemistry was off much of the evening. He was ultimately swapped for Ilsinho in the 58th minute.
But the Union didn’t need the Ilsinho magic right away as Brenden Aaronson provided his second goal against Atlanta in 2019. Jack Elliott made an impressive defensive play to win the ball near midfield before passing to Haris Medunjanin. Medunjanin was able to loft it over the top to an onrushing Aaronson who corralled the ball and blasted it past Guzan to level the score.
The Union used the momentum from the goal to control possession for a significant stretch. The crowd at Talen Energy Stadium played their part as they really started rocking after the Union equalized. But the Union couldn’t find a way to put away a second one for some time.
A defensive miscue nearly lead to disaster in the 80th minute. Elliot wanted to let a ball play back to Blake, but a communication breakdown meant Blake didn’t come out to collect. The Miscue meant Josef Martinez had an open net at a tough angle, but he scuffed his shot against the post. He went down with an injury for a period afterward, but he quickly returned to the match.
The Union were loaded with nerves during much of the final fifteen minutes of play and solid goal scoring opportunities continued to amount to nothing. Atlanta didn’t get much possession, but the tension was palpable whenever Atlanta moved towards goal.
And it was at this point that Sergio Santos and Kacper Przybylko decided to call game.
Santos was a late substitute and he used his speed to make a run down the left side and save a long pass from Wagner from crossing the endline. This left him in position to pass back to Przybylko who slammed a laser past Guzan at the near post to give the Union the lead. It was Przybylko’s 13th of the season, and probably his best.
Just a few minutes later, it was Przybylko’s turn to provide the assist to Santos. Ilsinho played a part as well as he moved the ball down the right this time. He generously left it off to Przybylko who slipped a low cross to Santos. Santos calmly buried the shot and extend the lead to two.
Atlanta didn’t seriously challenge Andre Blake or the Union defense during the five minutes of added time. In fact, it seemed like the Union probably could have added a fourth.
When the time came, it was almost impossible to hear the final whistle as the Talen Energy Stadium crowd cheered one of the greatest victories in Philadelphia Union history.