The challenge was immense. In the tournament’s current format, just one team, Club America, in 16 instances was able to overcome a three-goal deficit from the first leg and advance. No team had done so when losing the first leg at home. It marked the third consecutive year that the Five Stripes failed to make it past the quarterfinals. It was eliminated by Monterrey in 2019 and Club America last season. In each series, Atlanta United lost the first leg 3-0.
Atlanta United didn’t help itself with an offense that again looked out of sync for most of the night. It put just four shots on goal through the first 80 minutes. It finished with the four and just nine chances created to Philadelphia’s 17.
The energy, pressure and determination that Atlanta United showed last week, which resulted in manager Gabriel Heinze saying it brought him joy, wasn’t there on Tuesday. It could be argued that the Union played like the team that was trying to score three goals.
“It was a good challenge for both teams with good intensity,” Heinze said. “From both sides, there were chances to score. I think it was a good game.”
Heinze selected as attacking a starting group as he could considering that Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm were unavailable because of lower body injuries. The starters were striker Josef Martinez, midfielders Jake Mulraney, Marcelino Moreno, Erik Lopez, Emerson Hyndman and Sosa, fullbacks Brooks Lennon and George Bello, centerbacks Miles Robinson and Anton Walkes, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Each team pressured the other early to try to create a series-changing play.
The Union was the better team as it tried to get that fourth goal to extinguish Atlanta United’s hopes. Philadelphia took four shots, putting one on goal, in the first 11 minutes while Atlanta United failed to mount any kind of threat.
Bello took Atlanta United’s first shot in the 16th minute. It was blocked and went out for a corner kick, which was cleared and turned into a Philadelphia counterattack and another shot on goal, which was saved.
“We came into the game with a lot of belief,” Hyndman said. “We thought we had chances in the last game and could have put it away early. We had to risk a little bit more early.”
Still without a shot on goal and showing little urgency, Atlanta United’s offense finally sparked in the final seconds of the first half when Sosa turned his man and put a right-footed shot into the lower right corner to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead and cutting its deficit to two goals. It was Sosa’s first goal as a professional. The goal wasn’t the result of a beautiful passing combination. It was just a simple turn and shot by Sosa but it gave the team life.
But Atlanta United failed to take advantage. Moreno put a shot on goal early in the second half but that was it. As has been the case most of the season, there was no chemistry between players in the final third. Crosses went through the box or out. Passes failed to connect. Runs weren’t made.
Heinze subbed out Martinez in the 78th minute, replacing him with Erick Torres.
Przybylko ended Atlanta United’s hopes with a goal, his fifth in the tournament, in the 88th minute.
Heinze and Philadelphia’s Jim Curtin were seen talking to each other throughout the game, and then again at the end.
“He’s a great player and a great coach, but you can still be a sore loser and an asshole after a game,” Curtin was quoted as saying.
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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule
April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0
April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1
May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1
May 9 at Inter Miami, 1 p.m., ABC
May 15 vs. Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 23 at Seattle, 4:30 p.m., Fox
May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN
June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE
June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN
July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1
July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC
July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN
Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, B7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE