Last year, Philadelphia's trip to Atlanta led to a bizarre pair of red cards and a 3-1 loss.
Both clubs are in far different places now, with Philly rolling out a narrow 4-4-2 system and Altanta transitioning to a less free-flowing 3-4-3. Many of the face on the field, however, will be familiar.
Josef and the many-goaled dream season
On his way to a record-setting goalscoring season, Josef Martinez notched a hat trick against the Union at home. Two came on penalties, as Philly put up a stout defense using only nine player for the final 71 minutes of the match.
This year hasn't started as smoothly for Martinez. He has been starved for service and has yet to form a strong connection with the creators -- Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco -- behind him. Miguel Almiron's absence has cut deep, but Martinez is still one of the most breathtaking quick-strike artists in league history, so Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty will need to bracket him constantly. Last Wednesday, Monterrey kept Martinez in check until the final fifteen minutes by keeping both center backs very close to him and leaving gaps between the CBs and fullbacks. Atlanta didn't exploit these gaps, so perhaps the Union can get away with a similar risk.
A chance to create chances
Behind Josef Martinez, Pity and Barco are tasked with creating opportunities for their star finisher. The Union's own creator, Marco Fabián, is suspended after a red card picked up against Sporting Kansas City. So what will the solution be?
A midweek knock in training could limit Ilsinho, and that leaves Ale Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson as likely choices at the top of Philly's diamond. Bedoya is probably too valuable as a two-way player who, along with Warren Creavalle, can help cover spaces next to Haris Medunjanin. Thus, look for Brenden Aaronson to see his name in lights for the first time on Sunday. The teenaged midfielder has been unfazed by his transition to the first team, and he has all the attributes required to thrive in the Union's high pressing, transition-oriented system. Aaronson's pressing is impressive, and his speed of play is a standout trait.
Still, Mercedes Benz Stadium can be an imposing place, and Aaronson will need to show real maturity to thrive in front of 40,000+ fans.
Start the strikers' engines
Cory Burke and Fafa Picault have gotten to good positions but have yet to bulge the net in 2019. Both ten goal scorers will be expected to continue up top with Sergio Santos sidelined for a month. In their first two matches of the year, Burke and Picault have done hard running in the channels, and this should continue against Atlanta. Expect the Union to attack Michael Parkhurst with Picault's speed and Burke's size. The talented but aging defender doesn't have the legs he once did, so Philly should be able to create issues for Atlanta if they can iso Parkhurst.
The Union will look to take down Atlanta at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sunday March 17 on PHL17 and ESPN+ outside of Philadelphia.