CHESTER, Pa. —- The Philadelphia Union are back in the underdog role
It’s a designation the club has relished throughout its existence, but the players aren’t focusing too much on that.
“I don’t think we’re so concerned with if other people see us as the underdog or the better team,” Union forward Fafa Picault said. “Once you pay too much attention to that, it can play in your head so it’s important to focus on what we do.
In a one-off game, the underdog dynamic is a bit different. Instead of playing for a result that affects the long term, it’s win or go home. With that in mind, the Union are ready to go after the victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Atlanta United FC.
“We’ll step on the field with no fear and make the city proud and give everything to move on,” Union manager Jim Curtin said.
The combination gained from the first-ever playoff win in club history has the players hitting their stride at the right time.
“I think the confidence plays a big part of it,” Picault said. “Coming back and beating Red Bull is big for us moving forward.”
“It’s a kind of win that can really build confidence and belief that we can beat anybody, whether we go up a goal or down a goal, home or away, the team is really unified, together,” Curtin said.
Philadelphia’s regular-season draw on March 17 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, plus the August 31 victory at Talen Energy Stadium have helped inspire Thursday’s approach.
“I think the more recent one at home, I think our guys can look back on that with confidence and say we were able to beat them with a lot on the line,” Curtin said. “Obviously, the challenge now is on the road, which is hard, but we’re not going to do a disservice to Atlanta, a disservice to our fans, and most importantly a disservice to our players and just sit back and park 10 guys at the top of the 18. We’re going to go for it.”
“We’ve done well against them this year, but the reality of playoffs in this league is that it’s a whole new season,” Picault said. “We take it as a whole fresh team and a team that we have to beat to advance.”
So far, the new format has produced six home victors and two on the road. One of the visiting teams to win was Toronto FC on Wednesday night.
The Reds’ triumph over New York City FC handed additional meaning to Thursday with home-Field advantage in the East final on the line.
Philadelphia may have an edge in the final third with Atlanta missing Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst. However, the Union are without leading scorer Kacper Przybylko. Without him, the Union deposited four goals on Sunday
“We had guys step up in big ways in his absence,” Curtin said. “I think there was a little more from the group because guys would kill to be on the field with us. We can get an emotional boost from that.”
Unlike previous seasons, they have an X-factor off the bench in Marco Fabian, who is ready to follow up his game-winning goal in any way possible.
“It’s my job now. I’m a professional. I’m a winner,” Fabian said. “I try to help this team, if it’s a few minutes or all the time. Inside the pitch, it’s another thing.”
The pace of Picault and Sergio Santos combined with Andrew Wooten’s hold-up play could also allow an advantage.
“It could depending on how the game goes,” Picault said. “We also Know that they have guys on their roster that can step it up. It’s going to be intense. They have a lot of quality in their team so do we. We don’t want to take them lighter than we have in the past.”
No matter what the final result is, the Union will take pride in their performance and fight until the last whistle.
“We know we’ve had a special year and we just want to go as far as possible,” Picault said.