Union vs. Atlanta United
7 p.m. on CSN
Coming off a difficult two game road swing in which they earned just one point, the Union (8-12-6) hope home cooking can get help them back in the win column, as they set to host impressive expansion side Atlanta United (10-8-5) for the first time Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here are five things to know:
1. Loss recovery
Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of Toronto FC wasn’t just one of many road losses for the Union, it was a beating. The best team in MLS dominated the Union and easily walked to the 3-0 victory.
“Against a Toronto team, to put it bluntly, we were outclassed on the road in their stadium,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “They are the best team in our league and I still think we can learn from it because that’s the standard.”
The Union can learn from the opportunity. Call it training at altitude, but Curtin believes the losing experience can only help as the Union head into the Atlanta match.
“We got 90 minutes in a loud atmosphere,” Curtin said after the game. “It’s a place which is good for our guys to grow and get better. They saw that we need to raise our level.
“It gives us room for major improvement. You can still take things away from the film session and implement it into Atlanta.”
2. Angry Atlanta
When the Union hit the field Saturday night, they know they’ll be meeting an angry Atlanta club. While the Union were being defeated by the league’s best, the expansion side was losing to the league’s worst in D.C. United.
“They are an angry team coming into our building and in need of points,” Curtin said. “We’re going to do everything we can to take all three points.”
Atlanta has every right to be angry. The club has one win in its last four matches and is in desperate need for points in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, Atlanta, with a game in hand, is one point behind the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final postseason slot. With that type of playoff fight brewing, losing on the road to D.C. United would make any team disgruntled.
“It’s not a must win,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst told reporters. “But the mentality of the group is that we want to bounce back from that poor performance, that disappointment. We know if we put in a good performance that we’ll win the game.”
3. Ice cold opposition
One weakness the Union could exploit Saturday is Atlanta’s lack of scoring. Not a typically poor offensive team, Atlanta has only buried three goals in its last four games, which has led to its recent struggles.
“That final third is a place where players have to solve it themselves during the game, with imagination,” Atlanta coach Tata Martino told the media. “The first 75 meters of the field we’re doing OK, but in the last 25 meters or so, it’s something the players need to solve during the game.”
But the Union aren’t buying into Atlanta’s offensive issues. It takes a simple look at the standings to see the visitors enter Saturday’s match with 42 goals this season, good for fourth in the East.
“They have a dynamic front group of [Miguel] Almiron, [Josef] Martinez, [Yamil] Asad, [Hector] Villalba, and they have a deep bench, too,” Curtin said. “They throw their outside backs forward, especially on the left-hand side, so we’ll have to deal with that.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Alejandro Bedoya & Haris Medunjanin: When Martino discussed the Union, he mentioned two players — Medunjanin and Bedoya. “They have some dangerous players and two really good holding midfielders in Blake and Medunjanin,” he said. “Those are two guys we don’t want to give time and space on the ball."
Hector Villalba: In a crowded group of productive offensive weapons, Villalba, Atlanta’s leading scorer, leads the club with 10 goals and four assists on the season. There’s a good chance that if Atlanta does break its scoring slump, Villalba will be the guy to do it.
5. This and that
• During Martino’s media availability, the coach stated the Union “scores a lot of goals but also gives up a lot of goals.” With three games in hand over Atlanta, the Union have only allowed six more goals on the season than Atlanta but scored eight fewer.
• If the Union come alive for a big effort, it’ll happen at home. The club is 7-4-2 at Talen Energy Stadium this season, while Atlanta is a respectable 4-6-4 on the road.
• Union goalkeeper Andre Blake returned to game action on Wednesday after missing eight matches. He allowed three goals on four shots.
• Atlanta midfielder Carlos Carmona will miss Saturday’s match because of a yellow-card accumulation suspension.