Another midweek showdown was marked on the calendar for Atlanta United. This time they hosted the reverse fixture with the Philadelphia Union. Mercedes-Benz Stadium was packed to the brim as43,006 fans watched to see if the club could qualify for the playoffs.
There were a few roster changes for United, starting with Kevin Kratz taking place of the injured Miguel Almirón. Jeff Larentowicz started at centreback for Michael Parkhurst, Chris McCann started at right back while Greg Garza improves his fitness (he was among the substitutes), and Julian Gressel started in the midfield since Larentowicz had backline duty.
The first half was as good as a team could wish coming out the gates. Atlanta United dominated the first 20 minutes to the point the Philadelphia Union were forced to park the bus. Had Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake been off his game at any point in the first half, the game would’ve been out of reach halfway through the first half. He had four blocks before Philadelphia could create any type of offense.
Atlanta’s dominance finally turned into goals when Leandro Gónzalez-Pirez found Julian Gressel for the tap in goal near post in the 27′.
Just six minutes later, Josef Martinez scored a goal from a tough angle (which has become his specialty). Martinez then shocked the fans by opting not to do his traditional chest-out celebration and instead sprinted to the touchline to hold up the kit of the injured Miguel Almirón. A kind and selfless gesture from Josef as the two often appear inseparable.
The best chance for Philadelphia came late in the second half when midfielder Haris Medunjanin hit a long-distance strike off the far post.
United dominated the match and nailed the coffin shut in the 88′. Tito Villalba made a cheeky move to shake a defender and sent a beautiful through ball to Jacob Peterson. With Peterson on a 1 v 1 with the keeper, he dribbled around the keeper and slotted it home in the near corner netting.
Atlanta United won the match 3-0 and officially qualified for the playoffs. United will take their momentum to New England Saturday, September 30 where they’ll face the revolution and attempt to repeat their 7-nil thumping from just weeks ago. My man of the match is Julian Gressel. He notched a goal and an assist on the night.
*Photos courtesy of Atlanta United