Life is hard. Especially when you're trying to get into the playoffs and about to face a team that's setting others on fire.
Atlanta got the win on Sunday against DC United, but it wasn't pretty by any means. They had lots of trouble breaking down the Black and Red's statistically horrible defense and the three goals (two of which came from center backs) were from headers off of crosses rather than interesting build-up play or shots. The premium attacking players have been concerningly quiet as of late with Josef Martínez, who's been coming in off of the bench, being the only one of them to score in the last three games. Things aren't looking great and they're about to get worse.
Now, the team travels to the City of Brotherly Love where, unfortunately, it's doubtful they'll find any. The Philadelphia Union (15-9-4) has 54 points in 28 games, is first in the East and is in a tight Supporters Shield race with LAFC. They set a record this weekend for the most six-goal wins in MLS history after their fourth against Colorado. Here's the kicker, all four of those six-goal wins came in their last 10 games. Let that sink in.
Taking a look at the stats, Philadelphia leads the league in expected goals with 51.6 and has the fourth-lowest expected goals allowed with 31.9. Defensively, the team is among the strongest, boasting the second-highest total defensive actions (tackles and interceptions) in the league at 1118 and playing a very pressure-intensive style of defending. Their attack is also one of the most prolific in MLS, leading the league in goal-creating actions per 90 (3.36) and total goals this season with 57. The players to watch in the Union's attack are Danial Gazdag (16 goals, 4 assists), Julian Carranza (13 goals, 5 assists), Mikael Uhre (9 goals, 2 assists), and Cory Burke (7 goals, 3 assists).
Philadelphia Union Predicted XI
Atlanta United Predicted XI
How does Atlanta win?
No idea. And frankly, I'm not expecting them to.
Atlanta needs to have one word on their minds when stepping onto the field at Subaru Park: DEFEND. If Atlanta can escape Philly with a point, it'll be one more point than anyone would reasonably have expected them to walk away with. To do this, they'll need to be very good about marking Philadelphia's danger men, especially Gazdag who is quick and can easily get in behind backlines to get one-on-one against the keeper.
The Union are experts at catching their opponents with numbers forward and punishing on the counterattack. If the Five Stripes don't want to be the next victim of a six-goal deficit, they'll need to be extra cautious when the back line moves forward.
Now for the attack, it's plain and simple: take your shots. You get the ball in space near zone 14? Go for it. Don't try to be cute and dribble past four defenders (I'm looking at you Luiz), just try and get some shots off. Will Atlanta get a whole lot of opportunities in the attacking third? Probably not, so they need to make the most of the opportunities they do get.
Atlanta found a lot of success with crosses into the box against DC United, but I'm going to go ahead and say it right now: THAT AIN'T GONNA FLY THIS TIME. Philly is much better about marking inside the box than DC and unless Juanjo Purata is involved, there's no way Atlanta win the aerial duels against the Union's 6'2 and 6'5 center backs.