The Philadelphia Union are through to the semifinals in their first year of CCL competition and Atlanta United are out in the quarterfinals for the third straight season. Here are three takeaways from an entertaining, if somewhat anticlimactic second leg.
HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia Union vs. Atlanta United FC | May 05, 2021
There’s not much more you can say about the Union other than they got a tough job done. For a few moments there, everything seemed to begin to line up for some pure, unrestrained CCL insanity. You had a key defensive piece missing in Jose Martinez through suspension. You had Atlanta missing attacking pieces which for some reason inexplicably seems to lead to teams doing well at second leg comebacks.
You had Atlanta forcing the issue and seeming very comfortable with a wide-open game. You had Philly missing high-quality chances and leaving the door open. You had a game played, ya know, in CCL. The list of “things that somehow lead to total insanity in a second leg” could go on for a long time.
The Union saw it out though. And just like they professionally dispatched Atlanta in the first game, they did the same in the second. It required a couple of tweaks — notably shifting Leon Flach to the base of their 4-4-2 diamond in place of Martinez.
As much as I want to pretend it got nervy for Philadelphia for the sake of my own narrative building, they really never seemed too troubled. For this being their first time in this competition, it hasn’t looked like it at any point. Now they have an opportunity to capitalize on a few extra months of team building and come back in August ready to take the last step toward the CCL final. And no one’s going to doubt they can make it through.
You’ll see his goal in a whole bunch of YouTube highlight videos with terrible techno music. And while no one deserves to be associated with that kind of thing, the good news for Santiago Sosa is the video will probably be titled “Santiago Sosa — Goals, Skills, Tackles — Welcome to [Insert European team here]”.
Sosa came to Atlanta United after being unable to consistently crack the first team at River Plate. Now the 22-year-old has taken an opportunity for consistent playing time and done nothing but ball out for nearly the entirety of his first few weeks in MLS. He’s technical, he plays a gorgeous long ball, his positioning is solid both in attack and defensively, he has no fear going in for a tackle, and now, apparently, he can score too.
GOAL: Santiago Sosa, Atlanta United FC - 47th minute
After the game, Gabriel Heinze summed up his recent performance succinctly and eloquently.
“Santi is adapting well day by day. I think it’s good news for Atlanta.”
It definitely is good news. For now anyway. It also means Atlanta fans may not have too long to enjoy Sosa in Atlanta. Not like he’s leaving soon or anything. But when he does leave, Atlanta fans will feel like he’s going far too quickly.
Before the tie began, Philadelphia manager Jim Curtin said, "The more I watch him, the more I think he's going to be one of the best signings in the league." Sosa only confirmed that thought over two legs.
It’s a question I’ve been half-jokingly, half-very seriously asking in Atlanta for the last couple of weeks. I know it’s goofy, but I think it honestly sums up Atlanta’s biggest problem right now. The kinks aren’t in the system. The players are adapting well to it and executing to the best of their ability. However, the question is, is the talent there to make executing within Heinze’s system actually matter?
Right now, the answer is no. It’s just not. Even if they had Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm available Tuesday night, the talent wouldn’t have been there at a level that would actually result in a consistent goal-scoring threat. The team is toothless going forward and I’m not confident getting more comfortable in the system is what’s going to correct it.
Josef will improve as time goes on, but if no one else is creating around him it won’t matter. You can plug Barco back in, but there are plenty of data points after three years that indicate he won’t make a significant difference. If he’s even available. He’s only started in 43 MLS games in his career out of a potential 94 and the fact that he’s already taken another “knock” this early into the season isn’t encouraging. Jurgen Damm certainly isn’t the answer.
This is a team where Josef is the only starter who’s ever scored more than four goals at a first division level. The rest of the group playing in the front three right now or even in attacking midfield positions probably aren’t as threatening as Jon Gallagher, who got traded away from Atlanta this offseason to go sit on Austin’s bench. Look, I know I’m probably over-talking this and need to step back, so I’ll let Doyle sum it up.
Or, alternatively, “Where are the dudes?”
Bonus: A WHOLE HEAPING HELPING OF COACHING BEEF
The FS1 cameras found Gabriel Heinze and Jim Curtin having intense discussions before and after the game. Then, Jim Curtin dropped this post-game…
"He's an incredible coach, he's an incredible player, but you can still be a sore loser and be an a----- at the end of the game, so I still think there's a right way. I think he should shake hands like a man after the game," Curtin said. "They'll probably have something to say now that I've said that, but again I'm not going to just sit here and take it anymore."
"I think there's great American coaches in this league. There's great foreign coaches in this league, and I don't want to make anything more of it than that, but you know it's something that I don't know, maybe something's got lost in translation, but [Henize] was mad at me for Sergio, who was down on the ground after he cramped, coming out of the game too slowly," Curtin added. "But he's certainly been in games, where his team was winning, as a player or a coach where, yes, there are some tactics and there are something things where you're not as urgent to get off the field. So, it's in the past."
AND NOW THEY’RE OFFICIALLY IN A FIGHT AND WILL HAVE TO BASH EACH OTHER IN THE MEDIA OVER AND OVER UNTIL A FINAL VICTOR IS DECLARED.
Or, ya know, these things happen and they’re fun to follow and maybe not a larger overall statement about either Curtin or Heinze as a manager and as a person. Fair play to Curtin though, he had every right to call scoreboard after this one.