The MLS Game of the Week will take place on Sunday when defending champions Atlanta United FC play host to the Philadelphia Union. Though just two games into the 2019 season, it’s an important match-up of two teams that have gotten off to rocky starts and sit near the bottom of the table.
Following a tepid start to 2019, Atlanta has shown glimpses of 2018 in their last pair of outings. Frank de Boer’s side allowed only one shot on goal in an unfortunate 1-1 draw to Cincinnati, and they followed that up with a 1-0 tally over Monterrey in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League match.
The high-possession squad figures to have the lion’s share of the ball on Sunday in front of their home fans, where they concluded 2018 unbeaten in their final 10 games (7-0-3) and haven’t lost at home in 15 matches overall. They employed a 5-3-2 formation against Monterrey with success, though I expect them to be more aggressive on Sunday sporting just a four-man back line.
Venezuelan-born Josef Martinez, the reigning league and MLS Cup MVP, scored on Wednesday and he should have his chances against the porous Union defense.
Things have not started positively for the Union in 2019; starting with a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC on opening night and following that with a 2-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City. And to add insult to injury, new signing and vital attacking midfielder Marco Fabian will miss the Sunday match-up as he is on a red card for his actions against KC.
Jim Curtin’s side currently sits at the bottom of the table with a -4 goal differential and they picked a tough time to visit the defending MLS Cup champions.
I expect Philadelphia to tighten things up in the back for this match and to try to hit Atlanta on the counter. Their 4-1-3-2 alignment has left too much space for their opponents in attack early this year. However, playing a side that holds the ball as well as Atlanta does spell big trouble for a Union squad that has been fragile in front of their keeper.
A struggling Union team coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the perfect remedy for an Atlanta side that has yet to hit their best stride. Laying the -175 odds is quite manageable for a superior team that will be hungry to get in the win column on Sunday.