MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union aren’t just focused on the tactics boards and training drills this week as the teams look forward to an Eastern Conference semifinal tilt Thursday (8 pm ET | ESPN2 in US; TVAS, TSN4 in Canada). They’re also focused on the physio room, as both teams will try to heal up the best they can to battle the attrition that reared its head in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs opening round.
Atlanta United are battling an injury crisis at the back. Already without Miles Robinson, who injured his hamstring on international duty in the week prior to the playoffs, his replacement, Michael Parkhurst, suffered a dislocated shoulder in stoppage time of Atlanta’s 1-0 win in the opening round Saturday against the New England Revolution. It means that the Five Stripes are likely to feature Florentin Pogba as either a center back or left back in Thursday’s match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But for as much as Atlanta are scrambling to sort out their matchday squad and starting XI for Thursday, things may be worse for Jim Curtin’s Union, who not only battled for 120 minutes in miserable conditions Sunday, but lost Alejandro Bedoya during the game with an apparent lower body injury.
“Obviously Bedoya, big player for them, almost a leader for their team. It will probably be a big miss if he doesn’t play in the game,” Atlanta United midfielder Emerson Hyndman said after training on Monday. “That’s something that can happen this late in the season. It’s never nice to see, but at the same time we’ve got to try to take advantage of what they’re lacking at the time, and that’s what we’re looking at.”
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Atlanta United players sat on their couches Sunday and couldn’t have been disappointed to see their future opponents duking it out and leaving everything on the rain-drenched field at Talen Energy Stadium.
“I think going into extra time is always tough on players, especially when you’ve put all that effort into 90 minutes knowing that you’ve got quite a bit left,” said Hyndman. “I was watching the game, and it looked like there were some tired legs out there, a little bit. We look quite fresh and the end of the game, which was nice to see. Obviously the extra day helps as well. We’re confident in our energy levels, and having watched the game, I think it might be a big advantage.”
Pogba said he’s feeling up for the challenge in returning to Atlanta’s starting lineup after entering as a substitute Saturday. His last two starts for Atlanta have resulted in losses for the team (Sep. 26 vs. New York City FC and Sep. 15 vs. Columbus Crew SC), but Pogba says he’s feeling ready after starting twice for his native Guinea over the international break.
“I think playing with the national team these two games during the international break helped me to gain some rhythm, which I think will be valuable for me whether I play this Thursday or if we advance and I have to play in the next game,” said Pogba Monday. “Getting that rhythm will help my confidence.
“The confidence level was the same as it was before the last game,” added Pogba, talking about the team collectively. “Nothing changes for us. We have to go in with a cool mind and not put too much pressure on ourselves. We have three games left to play and we’ve got to take it step by step. This team has experience from going through it last season.”