With captain Alejandro Bedoya suspended and Atlanta United riding the high from winning the U.S. Open Cup, it’s understandable that even diehard loyalists were skeptical of the Philadelphia Union getting a result against the Five Stripes on Saturday night.
Especially after a first half that saw the Union have a goal waived off after video review and create several promising chances only to concede in stoppage time to fall down 1-0 on Jose Martinez’s 13th straight MLS game with a goal.
But as they’ve done so many times this season, the Union rode a strong second half to a resounding 3-1 win over their visitors that have been the toast of the league since joining as an expansion side in 2017.
“I think we showed MLS that we are not a fraud team; you know we can play against everybody because nobody is counting on us,” said Haris Medunjanin, who wore the armband in Bedoya’s absence. “Everyone is against us so everybody thinks that we are lucky, that because they lose we are up, but we showed today that we can compete against any team, especially at home.”
Our friends at Dirty South Soccer pretty much said as much in their game preview, with writer Parker Cleveland tagging the Union as “fading frauds” in what sounds like it was used as bulletin board material for Haris and company.
“I talked to you guys early on in the season, when you asked how good we were, I said I’d circle the Atlanta and the [Los Angeles Football Club] game to tell us because those are the two best teams,” head coach Jim Curtin said in his post-game presser. “New York City [FC] as well, we have them coming in and then we’ll see what we’re all about, but as far as the first big test, we get an A+.”
That Medunjanin’s “we’re not a fraud team” rebuttal came 366 days after Fafa Picault’s “we don’t suck” comment following a 2-0 win in D.C. United shows the rapid progression that has occurred in the past 12 months under Sporting Director Ernst Tanner.
Last year, the team was trying to prove to its scorned fans and to the league that they were no longer bad; this year it’s that they are better than the no-better-than-fourth-place many of us expected going into the season. Now the story isn’t whether they’ll host a playoff game — the worst they can do a playoff game on the road after Orlando City’s loss clinched a postseason berth — but whether they can hang with the so-called elite teams in the league.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, but with five games left in the season the Union are neck and neck with NYCFC (one point back, two games in hand) and Atlanta United (three points back, one game in hand) and in line to compete for a conference crown and the Champions League berth that comes with it.
Firt, they’ll try to cobble together a lineup to play a friendly against Liga MX club Pumas UNAM next Saturday — with eight players away on international duty — before welcoming Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC on September 14.
Kacper Przybylko, who scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season and added his fourth assist of the season on the third goal, was already looking ahead to LAFC in his post-game interview.
“LAFC, I wish you already a lot of luck,” Przybylko said. “This is our house. This is our stadium. We have great supporters and we’re waiting for you guys.”