Photo: Frank Fimmano

Photo: Frank Fimmano

Match Preview: Union vs. Atlanta United FC, Saturday July 7th at 7 PM

The Philadelphia Union will take on the Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United FC at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday night.

The Union are coming off a lackluster road performance which saw them lose to Los Angeles FC 4-1 last week, bringing their road record to a pathetic 1-6-1.

Fortunately for the U, they are back home where their record is actually pretty good at 5-2-2. Unfortunately, their opponent will be Atlanta United, a team that has the same record on the road as the Union have at home. Atlanta is enjoying life in first place, with 37 points in 19 matches, 5 points ahead of second place New York Red Bulls, and 2 points ahead of FC Dallas in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.

The Five Stripes’ offense is a powerful scoring machine. They have a league-leading 40 goals scored. They have the league’s top goal scorer in striker Josef Martinez, with 17. He is good form, scoring a brace last week against FC Dallas. Martinez is also tied for second in shots on goal with 28. And the person he’s tied with is teammate Miguel Almiron, their number 10, who has 8 goals himself. Their wingers, Hector Villalba and Ezequiel Barco, are no slouches either. This will be a big test for the Union’s young back line. Centerbacks Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty did not have their finest showing against LAFC, so this will be a chance for some big-time redemption. If they aren’t up to the task, the Union will have to hope goalkeeper Andre Blake can perform his usual heroics between the pipes.

Atlanta may be loaded on offense, but their defense is mediocre, with 23 goals allowed. In contrast, the Union have only allowed 2 more goals than the Atlanta. Offense is the big difference between the two teams. The Five Stripes finish their chances, the Union do not. If they want to get the three home points this week, that will have to change. Union fans are clamoring for Cory Burke to start over C.J. Sapong, but I’m not holding my breath for a change. Manager Jim Curtin must be seeing something in training that we’re not seeing in games, because he has been stubbornly sticking with Sapong, even though he has not had a goal in the last 10 games. One thing in the Union’s favor is the return of Haris Medujanin (whose 2019 contract option was just picked up by the team) from a three-game suspension, and Borek Dockal, who took last week off due to the birth of his child. The Union need to be at full strength if they are to have a chance to take down the conference leaders.

But I don’t think the Union are strong enough, even at full strength. They may score a goal, maybe even two, but Atlanta United will score more. Prediction: Atlanta United 3, Union 2.