CHESTER, Pa. — After overcoming a two-goal deficit to triumph in a home game they were favored to win going in, the Philadelphia Union return to a familiar underdog role Thursday in Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the defending MLS Cup champs (8 pm ET | ESPN2, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
“That’s a hard thing to be when you haven’t ever been the favorite, really, and won,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said after Sunday’s wild 4-3 extratime win over the New York Red Bulls. “So we got that out of the way, which is a big step for the club, and now we’re back in the role that we like, the underdog.”
Atlanta United have the advantage of playing at home and getting an extra day of rest after edging the New England Revolution 1-0 in a tight game on Saturday. But they could also be missing two key defenders. Michael Parkhurst left Saturday’s game with a dislocated shoulder in second-half stoppage time, while the player he was replacing, fellow center back Miles Robinson, missed the game entirely with a hamstring injury he picked up on international duty with the US men’s national team.
“I think you saw even New England went down there and caused some problems,” Curtin said. “They’re a little banged-up, they have some injuries. Our guys are certainly going to be fearless and brave. Are we playing with the house’s money a little bit now? Yeah, we are, because going to Atlanta in front of 60,000 is a difficult task, so it kind of suits us a little bit.”
The Union drew ATLUTD 1-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium way back in March to pick up their first point of the season after an 0-2 start, and came from behind to win 3-1 with a strong second-half performance in the return fixture at home on Aug. 31.
“We went down there before this year and got a great result, and we beat them at home,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “This is playoffs, man, anything can happen. We’re confident. After this game, of course we’re extremely motivated.”
Team leading scorer Kacper Przybylko missed Sunday’s game after a setback last week in his recovery from a foot injury he picked up in the pregame warmups before Philly’s Decision Day presented by AT&T loss to New York City FC. Curtin said they’ll be monitoring the 26-year-old striker’s status on a “day-to-day” basis leading up to the game Thursday.
“It’s literally going to be what he can tolerate,” Curtin said. “It will be something that we are going to continue to push to get him back. And he’s dying to play against Atlanta, obviously.”
With or without their 15-goal scorer, who Curtin said was “crushed” when he found out he wouldn’t be able to play Sunday, the belief within the team has probably never been higher than it is now after overcoming two-goal deficits twice to capture a historic result for the team and their long-suffering fan base.
“We know that playoffs is a different season, so whatever was done in the past obviously was a good thing for the season and helped us get points to get us the seeding we had for today. But that’s over,” said Fafa Picault, who notched the tying goal and assisted Marco Fabian’s winner on Sunday. “We just have to go and take it as a new game, which it is, and give everything.”
“We’re not ready for vacation yet,” Picault said.