The Union are in the MLS Eastern Conference semi-finals.
That’s right. The Union actually won a playoff game! Their come-from-behind 4-3 victory at Talen Energy Stadium over the New York Red Bulls has to ranked as one of the most exciting matches ever, even if it did give Union fans a feeling of despair in the first half of that match.
The victory gave the Union another match to play, this time against Atlanta United. The last time the Union played the Five Stripes was another thrilling match, with the Union coming back from a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1. That match also had a playoff feel to it, as first place was in the balance.
But that game was played in Chester. The Union limped through the rest of the regular season, and Atlanta ended up above the boys in blue in the table. As a result, the Union get to travel to Mercedes Benz Stadium, a place where the Five Stripes are almost invincible, only losing twice there all season. The Union actually did better than most teams there this year though, capturing a road point in a 1-1 draw in the early part of the season.
It will be tough, and the U will have to bring their A game. They can’t afford the mistakes goalkeeper Andre Blake made in the Red Bull match. They need to do better providing service to their strikers And they need to get better at finishing their chances. Hopefully striker Kacper Przybylko will return to give the U some extra fire power. If he’s not, I would avoid the two-striker approach head coach Jim Curtin used last week with Andrew Wooten and Sergio Santos. Wooten was pretty much invisible before he was replaced with Ilsinho in the second half. And it doesn’t help that Alejandro Bedoya is still nursing a quad injury, although it didn’t seem to slow him down too much against NYRB.
The Union defense will need to be tight, because they’re going to have Josef Martinez attacking them. Martinez has scored 27 goals this season, good for third in the MLS goal category, with only Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ahead of him. They also have to keep an eye on Julian Gressel and Pity Martinez too. Blake has to put last week’s mistakes behind him, as he can expect to be tested in this match.
There will be 70000 fans in Mercedez Benz Stadium. It is perhaps to most hostile environment for a visiting team to play in, even on a normal day. And this is not a going to be a normal day, with a berth in the Conference finals on the line. If the Union can manage to win this, the fans can really start dreaming about the possibility of winning the MLS Cup. But I don’t think they will. Win or lose, I do expect this to be an exciting action-packed match and I can’t wait. Prediction: 3-1 Atlanta United