Arthur Blank celebrated his birthday watching his Atlanta United franchise complete a six-game home-stand with a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union at Atlanta Mercedes Benz Stadium Wednesday evening.
The novelty of winning with a clean sheet has worn off a bit. United won five of the six games in the stretch by holding their opponents scoreless.
Julian Gressel stepped in for Miguel Almiron who is out for the next three weeks. The rookie made his presence felt with a breakthrough in the 27th minute. Union defender Jack Elliott’s long run over was too late to stop the left foot of Gressel.
It wasn’t long before one turned into two. After a zero goal effort on Sunday, Josef Martinez added his 18th goal of the season six minutes after Gressel broke the ice. Once again, Elliott was victimized by a left foot. Afterwards, Martinez grabbed the number 10 jersey of his injured teammate and draped it on his face. “On my 18 goals, he’s (Almiron) helped me on about half of them,” said Martinez of the tribute. “He’s the most important player on our team. He’s really important for us and for me.”
Philadelphia kept pressing the action. Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong (14), midfielder Haris Medunjanin, and forward Fabrice-Jean Picault combined for seven shots. Timely defense and solid play in the goal by Brad Guzan kept the sheet clean.
“We had a couple opportunities, but weren’t able to put one past Brad (Guzan), said Union head coach Jim Curtin. Atlanta’s veteran goalkeeper made three gutsy saves to match the play of the Five Stripes’ back line. And then, of course, there was a bit of luck involved. Medunjanin’s shot in the second half sailed a foot north of the top left corner.
United’s Jacob Peterson added the last goal of the night in the 88th minute to cap a superb run. Hector Villalba’s well-placed through ball allowed Peterson to get forward in the box. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake (Jamaican National team) attempted to slow the advancing forward but lost his balance. As Blake hit the turf Peterson slotted home a shot just ahead of the Philly’s Fabinho.
The win clinched a playoff spot for the expansion team. “I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t one of the expectations for the season because we have really good players and I knew the type of players that we were going to be bringing in,” said Atlanta Manager Gerardo Martino.
Atlanta United occupies the third spot behind New York City FC and two behind Toronto. With four games left including a head-to-head match-up against division leader Toronto, Atlanta could make a run to overtake one or both division foes.
All photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports