Philadelphia Union continued to climb up the Eastern Conference table with a 1-0 victory over Atlanta United FC on Saturday afternoon. Jose “El Brujo” Martinez dominated the middle of the park and made a strong run in the second half to set up Kacper Przybylko’s eighth goal of the season for the match winner.
With Cory Burke out due to an ankle injury, Jim Curtin turned to Sergio Santos at the top of the Union attack and the Brazilian put his stamp on the match in the first 10 minutes with dangerous runs that signaled his threat to the visitors. The game’s first opportunity came just five minutes in when the Union’s press forced a turnover in Atlanta’s defensive third. A quick pass from Kacper Przybylko saw Santos in on goal but USMNT veteran Brad Guzan made the reaction save.
After Philly controlled the opening 10 minutes, the visitors struggled to grow into the match but nearly turned a miscommunication into the opening goal. After Atlanta’s George Bello sprung into the attack with a run into the box, the wingback sent a hard cross directly in front of the Union goal. Andre Blake was forced into a quick clearance that landed at the feet of an Atlanta attacker who failed to threaten.
Wearing the captain’s armband in Alejandro Bedoya’s absence, Blake adjusted the defense and the Union once more pinned the visitors into their side of the pitch. In the 20th minute another quick attack built from Philly’s counterpressing came through Monteiro but his quick pass to the edge of the box for Santos only led to a deflected shot and a corner kick.
The Union continued to put Atlanta under duress with the space created by the speedy Santos. Center back Jack Elliott joined into the attack in the 28th minute with a striker-esque run from the midfielder stripe all the way into the Five Stripes box. With the end line approaching, Elliott sent a perfectly placed ball to Santos who was once more denied by Guzan.
Guzan and Santos were now locked in an individual battle as the rest of the match played out around them. Santos timed his jump perfectly when Wagner found him at the front post, but the headed shot skimmed the crossbar.
Przybylko got his own look soon after, running down a throughball from Daniel Gazdag. The forward beat his marker and fired a blast that Guzan pushed away. Seconds later the Union were again inside the opponent’s box with Gazdag taking a give and go combination from Monteiro. The Union attacker looked to have the match’s first goal but again Guzan stood tall.
At the start of the second half, the Union continued their vertical approach, and it nearly resulted in a stunning goal from Flach. The young midfielder spotted Guzan off hi life and floated an effort toward the back post that the goalkeeper scrambled to pull down before it nestled in the netting.
In the 56th minute, Santos and Guzan resumed their showdown when Bello’s soft backwards pass nearly allowed the Union striker to intercept as Guzan flew out to slide the ball away.
Paxten Aaronson took up the attacking midfield role in the 57th minute as Gazdag departed.
Two minutes later, Aaronson testing out Atlanta’s defensive shape as he dragged a defender wide before finding Santos for a shot in the center of the box that deflected off Przybylko and out.
Emboldened by his earlier runs, Elliott once gain strode forward and got on the end of Santos’ centering pass but couldn’t get it out of his feet to power the ball past Guzan.
The breakthrough Philly deserved came from the feet of Kacper Przybylko, though the provider was an attack-minded Jose Martinez. Swishing up the right, Martinez dodged two Atlanta defenders and sent in the type of low cross Przybylko thrives on. Beating his man to the spot, the big striker turned the ball past a stranded Guzan with a practiced touch.
Przybylko and Martinez both left the match soon after putting the Union ahead. Curtin, showing trust in his young bench, added Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn to the mix.
The Union continued to find themselves inches away from putting the game beyond Atlanta. Strong work from Jack McGlynn knocked the ball loose at the top of the attacking third, and the Homegrown immediately picked out Santos at the top of the box, but even fancy footwork couldn’t create the space the Brazilian needed to shoot.
Anthony Fontana replaced a cramping Santos as Curtin decided to see out the match with four Homegrowns in front Flach and a solid back four. Sullivan harried United’s defenders while Fontana lurked and Aaronson moved between helping Flach secure the middle and retaining possession against a desperate press from the visitors.
As extra time rolled around, Glesnes cleared a floated cross away and Atlanta threw bodies forward looking to even the scoreline.
It was not to be. Atlanta’s final corner kick found Andre Blake’s waiting arms, and leapt over the visitors in the standings with a huge three points.
Philadelphia Union continues its three-games-in-eight-days stretch to close out the month with a rivalry showdown at New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night. The contest sees the Boys in Blue return to the airwaves with PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com available for Union fans to catch the action. Kick off from New Jersey is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.