With his team preparing to depart for a big showdown in Chicago, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin assessed the performance last weekend against Atlanta and the importance of winning games against teams around you in the standings.
Penalties change games
For the second match in a row against Atlanta, a penalty kick proved to be the moment that turned the match in the Five Stripes' favor. "Gave up the pk, which obviously changed the game," Curtin said. "Andre maybe got a late read on it, and the foul is a foul and a penalty kick." Atlanta center back Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez played a stunning throughball to release Miguel Almiron early in the second half of the match Saturday. Andre Blake flew off his line but Almiron's electric dribbling pace meant the Union goalie only got toe when he dove, and MLS leading scorer Josef Martinez converted from the spot.
Strong showing from the youth
"With our young back line, they did a really good job with [Atlanta]," Curtin argued. "Created enough chances to get a goal, I think deserved points and a result, but didn't get it." The Union are still in a good position to make a run at the playoffs, and they are looking up at a number of teams that could deal with volatility over the back half of the season. Red Bulls and NYC FC have lost coaches, Montreal leaped into playoff position with a stunning defensive run that may not be sustainable, and Chicago went undefeated in June only to drop points against Vancouver last weekend. Additionally, Orlando City will be adjusting to a new coach over the next few months.
Chicago and their ilk
Curtin also acknowledged that taking points against teams like Chicago could very well determine how the Union's season goes. "It's a team that's right around us in the standings, one that we've played already this year, one that we know we're close to in terms of talent, so again it's a game that is magnified," the coach said. "That's what this playoff push will come down to, how we do against those teams. Is it good to steal points against Atlanta, the top tier teams? Absolutely, but realistically we know these games are the six point games now. We have to respond well Wednesday."
Fresh legs for the home stretch
The Union are entering a busy two week stretch, so their depth will be tested over the next few matches. "Obviously, we have five games — different types of games — in fifteen days, with a friendly, with an open cup quarterfinal, so we'll have to manage the squad," Curtin acknowledged. "You'll see guys get opportunities and we'll be evaluating every minute that's played."
But overall, still, the Atlanta performance, people might not like me saying it, was actually a really good performance from our guys."
The Union travel to Chicago Tuesday evening and will face off against the Fire at 8:30 PM EST on PHL17 with a chance to move into playoff position if they win and Montreal loses to NYC FC.