Overall thoughts on the match
The majority of the first half was quite even between the two sides. Both teams had their fair share of chances, each of them converting one. The Union were effective at putting goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo to work early, forcing turnovers and keeping the ball in Atlanta’s box.
Atlanta also looked dangerous on the counter attack after the Union misplaced a pass, with $16 million signing Thiago Almada breaking at pace and slipping in his attackers. Atlanta ended the half with 57% possession and with 10 shots, 2 more than the Union. Jim Curtin credited Mikael Uhre’s 48th minute goal with changing the momentum in the match, saying that “right before half, that [goal] takes a little bit out of them, [it] gets our crowd back into it.”
Indeed, Uhre’s goal ended up determining much of how the second half was played, with Atlanta committing numbers forward in an attempt to equalize. Curtin said that his players were able to “punish them in transitions” as Atlanta did so, leading to the lopsided 4-1 score line. First half goals have allowed the Union to break open a lot of games as of late, with the Union owning a +17 goal differential in their last 5 matches.
Through halftime of this game, stats for the Philadelphia Union's front three:— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) September 1, 2022
Daniel Gazdag — 16g/8a, 2445 mins. 102 mins per goal involvement.
Julian Carranza —14g/7a, 1830 mins. 87 mins/goal involvement.
Mikael Uhre — 10g/5a, 1243 mins. 83 mins/goal involvement.
What’s unleashed Daniel Gazdag?
I asked coach Curtin what he thinks has contributed most to the Hungarian midfielder’s recent form that has launched him into MVP conversations across the league. He gave several answers, ranging from personal to tactical.
Curtin cited “comfort with new teammates, comfort with the country, and comfort with his family being here” as ingredients for his success that have come with time. He also spoke about some of the tactical things he sees on the sidelines.
“I’ve never seen and worked with a player, when there’s 2 strikers, make deep runs and be as completely wide open as he is,” Curtin remarked. “It’s almost as if he goes invisible. We sit on the sideline and go ‘there he is again, wide open again.’ Right down the middle [of the field.] He does something deceptive with [the timing of] his movements. That’s something I can’t take credit for, the coaching staff can’t take credit for. He has natural instincts in the game,” Curtin said with a grin. “When balls bounce to him in the box… after 17 goals, it’s not a coincidence.”
Everything Gazdag touches turns to gold at the moment, and Jim Curtin knows that luck has nothing to do with it.
Super-sub Cory Burke
After being an essentially automatic call-in for the Jamaican national team over the past few seasons, Burke was not called in for the nation’s March and June camps. Since then, his performances for his club have completely turned around. “You need players to change the feel and the tempo of the game,” Curtin explained. The 6’4” Burke is “naturally going to win every aerial duel. He did a great job flicking balls on… holding the ball up. He gave us energy fighting for balls in behind after Mikael [Uhre] ran his butt off for 60 minutes and fatigued a little bit. He’s been a real problem for the other team’s defense.” Curtin is pleased to have “a good problem, where [he] has a stable of strikers that all can score 10 goals in this league.”
Andre Blake’s 200th match
“It always starts from the back with Andre, [his] 200th game tonight. That stability and that nice warm blanket that he gives us back there makes any coach sleep well at night.”
“Our guys smell blood”
“This group continues to not only impress me, but impress the fans, impress the league,” Curtin said. “[Subaru Park] is a hard place to come play now. When we get a goal, you can feel the momentum shift. It gets a little louder. You can feel the life come out of the other team, and our players have the killer instinct which is very dangerous in pro sports. When our guys smell blood, they’re pretty ruthless.”
The Union continue their run toward first place in the Eastern Conference on September 3rd as they travel up I-95 for a showdown with the third place New York Red Bulls.