“This team's goal, and the last words that I said to the group, is the playoffs first,” said Union head coach Jim Curtin. "The Eastern Conference second, Supporters’ Shield third and then we’re gonna push to win MLS Cup. So I think we checked one box tonight. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But we're playing really well right now.”
Philadelphia joined LAFC as the only teams to have clinched a postseason berth thus far, and the Union opened up an eight-point gap over CF Montréal atop the Eastern Conference standings while moving level on points with LAFC in the Shield chase. Philly won the regular-season title in 2020, while the Black & Gold did in 2019.
“Our guys have a killer instinct, which is really, really dangerous in pro sports when guys smell blood,” Curtin said. "Our guys are pretty ruthless. And I really liked that attitude that they have. We don't stop scoring and we don't stop pushing to try to get goals.”
Unlike consecutive 6-0 wins over D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids, Philadelphia didn’t put away Atlanta until after the hour mark, when Daniel Gazdag made it 3-1 in the 67th minute. Nathan Harriel tacked on a stoppage-time insurance tally.
Gazdag, who now has 17 goals and eight assists in a Best XI-caliber sophomore campaign in MLS, has played a starring role in the Union’s late-season surge with five goals in his last three matches.
“I've never seen a player make deep runs and be as completely wide open as he is when he runs through. It's almost like he goes invisible and like he disappears and people don't see him because we sit on the sidelines and go, 'There he is, again, wide open again, right down the middle, like dead down the middle of the field,'” Curtin said of the Hungarian international.
“So he does something deceptive, there's no question about it, with the timing of his movements. And that's something I can't take credit for, coaching staff can't get any credit for. He has natural instincts in the game and has a feel that is different and unique.”
The momentum-shifting moment, though, came in first-half stoppage time when Mikael Uhre scored his 10th goal of the season.
The forward, who signed as a Designated Player out of Denmark's Brøndby IF, is also feeling more comfortable with a new team, in a new league and with a new way to decide a league champion.
“The only reason why I’m familiar with it is because I watched a decent amount of NFL before coming,” said Uhre, who is Philly's club-record signing. “So yeah, I know it a bit, but I'm really looking forward to trying it myself.”