There was merit to them, of course, with Atlanta entering Saturday’s contest at Subaru Park with seven wins in their last eight games as momentum started to build in the Gonzalo Pineda era.
But the Union paused that song behind a 71st-minute goal from Kacper Przybylko, securing a 1-0 win over the resurgent Five Stripes. The visitors were missing star striker Josef Martinez to knee soreness, though this one was all Philadelphia from start to finish.
“I thought overall our best performance of the season,” Curtin said. “In some ways, maybe the players were a little extra motivated just reading all the headlines this week about how good Atlanta is and certainly they are an incredible team. Very good attacking players, but we think we have a good team too. They probably got sick and tired of hearing me pump up Atlanta, too, and talking about how dangerous all their players are on the field.
“But full credit goes to my guys for stepping on the field [and] being very intense, very physical for the entirety of the 90 minutes. To hold a team like that, with their kind of quality, to almost no real dangerous attempts at goal is something to be very proud of and speaks to our group.”
Philadelphia – at least temporarily – moved to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, a big leap considering their Audi MLS Cup Playoff aspirations. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners have now won two straight, having beaten Orlando City SC 3-1 at home last weekend.
This all follows Concacaf Champions League heartbreak, where they lost to Liga MX’s Club America 4-0 on aggregate in the semifinals. MLS teams have historically regressed slightly after deep CCL runs, mostly due to the mental and physical demands of balancing the continental tournament, but that’s not crept in for the DOOPers.
“That game is a barometer and a point in our season where when you have the heartbreak of losing a semifinal where you're actually, I thought, played really, really well,” Curtin said, referencing the 2-0 second-leg loss. “Guys can shrink and get smaller and they can go in a negative way. Or they can say, 'You know what? We played against the best team on this continent and dominated them for stretches and let's take that now into the league.'
“I thought with the next results against Orlando and now Atlanta, against two opponents that – I would say Atlanta's at least on par in terms of the talent of a Club America and the spending of a Club America. To go toe to toe with them and outplay them today is something to really build on, so I give all the credit to the players for their character and their ability to now get bigger rather than shrink when you lose a tough game in Concacaf Champions League.”
As they look to stay rolling, Philadelphia next head to a desperate New York Red Bulls side on Wednesday evening (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). Their hosts are seeking a 12th-straight playoff trip and must seize every chance to climb the table.
The Union aren’t in the clear just yet considering how condensed the Eastern Conference playoff race is aside from the New England Revolution already clinching a spot. Curtin’s keenly aware of that fact, though stressed the “the signs are good” for an opportune run.
“Again, we haven't accomplished anything yet,” Curtin said. “But these three points go a long way. You guys know how tight the table is and if you can put together a three-game win streak in this league your fortune changes very, very quickly.”