Union take back first place with 3-1 win over Atlanta United

The Union secured sole possession of first place of the MLS Eastern Conference Saturday night with a thrilling 3-1 win against Atlanta United FC at Talen Energy Stadium.

Union starting XI: Blake; Wagner, McKenzie, Elliott, Gaddis; Medunjanin, Monteiro; Aaronson (Santos 77’), Fabian (Fontana 85)’, Picault (Ilsinho 58’); Przybylko

Atlanta starting XI: Guzan; Gonzalez Pirez, Larentowicz, Robinson, Gressel (Escobar 57’); Nagbe, Remedi, Hyndman; Pereira (Meram HT), J. Martinez, P. Martinez (Villalba 84’)

The hype was big coming into this match. Two teams tied for first on points late in the season. Some were saying this was the biggest regular season game in Union franchise history. And that’s probably true. If that wasn’t enough to generate a big crowd, it was also Fireworks Night with a post-game pyrotechnic display.

And this match lived up to the hype.

The crowd didn’t have to wait until after the match for fireworks. In the first 10 minutes they saw Andre Blake making a big save on a Julian Gressel shot, a Josef Martinez bicycle kick go wide of goal and a Marco Fabian shot that hit the crossbar.

The play went back and forth as the half went on with each side generating chances. It seemed like the Union would be team that would draw first blood in the 33rd minute when what appeared to be Kacper Przybylko goal was called off after a VAR review determined Fabian, who provided the assist, was off sides when we received a ball headed by Haris Medunjanin headed the ball into the box.

The first half looked like it was going to end scoreless, but at the very end of the stoppage time, Josef Martinez ran past Jack Elliott and an outcoming Blake and scored an easy goal. The Five Stripes would go into halftime with the 1-0 lead.

The goal was a momentum changer as Atlanta dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half. But the defense held and the visitors could not break through.

Everything changed in the 61st minute, when Medujanin put a ball up over the Atlanta defenders heads, and Brenden Aaronson ran past them and scored the tying goal.

The Union took over that, getting the better of the run of play, although Atlanta was still getting their chances too. The death of the match was approaching and it looked like it could end up a draw, but Przybylko gave the Union the lead in the 86th minute. Sergio Santos passed the ball from the end line into the box to the friendly striker who placed the ball in the corner of the goal. Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan didn’t have a chance.

Of course, this is Atlanta United, a team with plenty of firepower, so the match wasn’t over yet. But two minutes later, the Union brought the hammer down with a goal that almost the mirror image of one they just scored on. This time it was Przybylko with the assist from the other side of the goal to Santos, who made no mistake with it.

The Union closed it out and sent the Five Stripes home empty handed. The Union are back in first place and now have a three point lead over Atlanta. This is huge, especially considering Atlanta has a game in hand. It is also big because the Union’s next match is against Los Angeles FC, the team with the best record in the league. The boys in blue will be at home, but this will still be a tough match. Before then however, they get enjoy a break from league play for two weeks thanks to the upcoming FIFA international dates.

Final thoughts:

  • TES was rocking tonight. The fans really brought it.
  • Rocking as it was, there were some empty seats. What else do the Union need to do to draw more people?
  • Blake had a couple big saves, but otherwise did not have a great game. His distribution was terrible. At one point, miscommunication between him and Elliott almost gave Josef Martinez the ball.
  • Kai Wagner came up big tonight, creating turnovers and crisp passing.

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