Image courtesy of the AJC
Atlanta United drew against the Philadelphia Union in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) quarterfinal tie by a score of 1-1 on Tuesday night. The Union had beaten Atlanta 3-0 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week, putting Atlanta in a deep hole heading into the second leg. Not only that, but Atlanta was without attacking players in Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm after they suffered injuries in Saturday’s loss to New England in MLS play. The first leg was a story of missed chances and death by counterattack. This match was similarly disappointing in that Atlanta United could not complete the miraculous comeback, but when taken alone, it was not such a bad performance.
Just as they did last week, the Five Stripes controlled possession, with 69% of the ball this time out. Despite the heavy possession numbers, Atlanta could not even generate the chances that they struggled to put away in leg one. With Josef Martinez not at 100% and no large targets in the box, it was a lot of crosses with nobody on the end of them. There were a couple of dangerous balls that Josef just missed and Erik Lopez was unable to tap in at the back post. Other than that, however, there were not many strong chances, with just four shots on target despite having so much of the ball. With such a need to score due to the nature of the tie, Atlanta had to be wary of the Union counterattack. There were some nervy moments, but the better transition defense and a little help from decreased sharpness from Philadelphia allowed Atlanta United to have hope in this matchup until Kacper Przybylko ended things in the 88th minute. Although it was from a counterattack, it was so late that it was understandable for Atlanta United to have too many numbers up in the attack.
The story of this match from an Atlanta United perspective was new signing Santiago Sosa. As the only player to play every minute for the squad this season, his role cannot be understated. He was all over the pitch, making strong, key tackles, putting his body on the line to block shots, circulating possession, and in added time of the first half, curling in his first professional goal to give Atlanta United some hope. Although this hope did not result in advancing to the CCL semis, which Atlanta United have now fallen short of doing in their first three Champions League campaigns, it does provide hope for the future. Sosa is playing how Heinze hopes to get all of his players to play – well and with intensity. Sosa might have scored, but playing in front of the backline, he cannot be counted on to produce goals consistently going forward. In this second leg, the squad showed ability on the ball, but with Josef Martinez still working his way back from injury and others now out with new knocks, someone needs to step up to put balls into the back of the net.