Since back-to-back losses in mid-May to Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake, Atlanta United is 9-4-1. A full seven of those nine wins have been shutouts, and the Five Stripes have only given up two goals total in all nine victories combined.
Perhaps more impressively, Atlanta has not been shut out since that May 19 Red Bulls game. Largely, that comes down to Josef Martinez. Atlanta have one of the best attacks in major league soccer since late May, and Martinez has a frankly absurd 17 goals in that span. Seventeen, coincidentally, is more than Orlando City, the latest opponent to fall 1-0 to Martinez, has scored as a club since May 24 (and Orlando hasn’t been that bad — Martinez has just been that good).
The only thing down south as good as Josef Martinez? Atlanta’s defense. 30 goals allowed sits them firmly behind LAFC as the second best unit in MLS.
Atlanta is just about the toughest test the Eastern Conference can offer Philly, but they are far from flawless. The Five Stripes have been dominant at home but haven’t done the business quite as completely away from their supporters. They rely heavily on Darlington Nagbe to progress the ball through midfield, and both Nagbe and Eric Remedi can get caught on the ball which is something the Union will hope to exploit on Saturday. Additionally, Atlanta leaves their central defenders to fight out physical 1v1 battles. This is a calculated risk because Miles Robinson, Florentin Pogba, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez are exceptional in these moments.
That said, the Union’s front four last weekend all had the ability to evade defenders or meet a physical challenge. If Atlanta allows those situations to develop, Philly, like Chicago and LAFC before them, may be able to jump on some moments to grab an early lead. In the end, though, this match will be decided by whether Philadelphia’s defense can contain Josef Martinez for 90 minutes. The Venezuelan is the biggest test the Union have faced all season, and he will remain so until Carlos Vela comes to town two weeks from now.
A big test? Jim Curtin always says his charges fear no one; they will love this challenge. Martinez and Atlanta United roll into town on August 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET on PHL17. Post-game fireworks will light the sky after the final whistle.