Jim Curtin has thrown down the gauntlet to his Philadelphia Union players ahead of Saturday’s huge Eastern Conference six-pointer with fellow playoff hopefuls Atlanta United.
The Union snapped a three-game winless run in the league last week with a 3-1 victory over Orlando City SC to leave themselves seventh in the East.
Atlanta is one point and once place better off than its next opponent, albeit after playing a game more,and has won seven of its last eight matches.
With just 10 games of the regular campaign to go, Curtin acknowledged the magnitude of this weekend’s showdown as the race for a postseason place heats up.
“Do you want to be a team that separates now and puts together a win streak that gets you away from the dangerous pack, or do you want to be a team relying on help?” he said. “(To be in a position where) a bad referee call, a decision that doesn’t go your way? You want to take care of business and be in that playoff picture before you get to Decision Day.
“It’s going to be a really difficult game, but we’ve shown we can punch above our weight and take points off really good teams. It’ll be a big one, but they’re all big at this point.”
Since losing 2-0 to Nashville SC in his first game in charge, Gonzalo Pineda has guided Atlanta to three successive victories, with the club scoring 10 goals and conceding only two.
Atlanta may be MLS’ most in-form side at this point, but Pineda has warned his players they cannot afford to take victories for granted.
“This is very common in football that you have a good run,” he said. “Then you feel like, ‘Everything is going to be the same. I don’t need to run. I don’t need to chase. I don’t need to press. I don’t need to connect my passes because I’m so good’. That’s not the mentality I want for my team.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Philadelphia Union – Kacper Przybylko
Cory Burke has been ruled out with an ankle sprain, putting more pressure on fellow attacker Przybylko to find the net.
The 28-year-old went nine games without scoring prior to netting a brace against Orlando last week and is now seeking goals in back-to-back matches for the first time since July.
Atlanta United – Josef Martinez
Martinez has scored three goals in Atlanta’s last two matches and has nine in 17 appearances overall this campaign. The Venezuela striker is now just one goal shy of hitting 100 for the Five Stripes in all competitions, which would cement his status as a club legend.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Atlanta has lost just one of its eight matches against the Union in MLS play (W4, D3, including playoffs), losing 3-1 in its last visit to Philadelphia in August 2019. Atlanta has scored at least once in all eight of its matches against the Union.
– Philadelphia conceded twice in each of its first two home matches this season, both losses. Since then, the Union have not allowed more than one goal in any home match (W7 D3 L1), holding opponents to just six goals in their last 11 matches at Subaru Park.
– Atlanta has won seven of its last eight matches (L1) following a club-record 12-match winless run. This is the second time in club history that the Five Stripes have won seven times in an eight-match span, also doing so from March to May 2018 (W7 D1).
– Przybylko scored twice in the Union’s win over Orlando, his fourth career multi-goal game in MLS. The goals ended a seven-match scoring drought in league play, tied for the second-longest run without a goal in his MLS career (eight straight in September-October 2020).
– Martinez has scored seven goals in seven career games against the Union, including a hat-trick in June 2018. Those seven goals are tied with four other players for the most by any player against the Union in MLS play.