The final two home games of the season should be sellouts as well as the Union hosts LAFC, MLS's best team, on Sept, 14, following the FIFA break and NYCFC on Oct. 6, the final day of the regular season.
Saturday's win assures the Union will head into the FIFA break in the lead in the Eastern Conference, but NYCFC, a point behind, has two games in hand it will play at home on Sept. 7 against New England and Sept. 11 against Toronto FC. Atlanta United dropped into third place, three points behind the Union with the loss, but has a game in hand and the edge in the tiebreaker (assuming it wins its extra game).
But for one evening, the Union can celebrate one of the biggest wins in its history, a deserved victory over MLS's hottest team. Atlanta United came into the game with a perfect record in August -- seven wins in seven games that produced a pair of trophies (Campeones Cup and U.S. Open Cup).
It might have been easy to dismiss the Union after it had a goal disallowed for a late offside decision, watched a pair of shots hit the woodwork and went into the half 1-0 down after a stoppage-time goal by Josef Martinez, who extended his MLS record to 13 straight games with at least one goal.
But the Union came out and got an equalizer from 18-year-old Brenden Aaronson in the 61st minute, and Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos teamed up for two late goals to give the Union the deserved win. The second-half reaction was no surprise to Union coach Jim Curtin.
"I thought [Atlanta United] really pushed us on again," he said. "Obviously, conceding at the end of the half is always deflating, but these players deserve all the credit. They showed a ton of heart. Every bit of adversity, every new challenge that we've had this year they found a way to raise their level and they leave everything on the field."
The Union set a club record with 15 wins in 2018 -- a record it matched on Saturday -- and Curtin said he told his players early in the season the Atlanta United and LAFC games would tell him a lot about this year's team.
"I said I’d circle the Atlanta and the [LAFC] game to tell us because those are the two best teams," he said. "New York City [FC] as well, we have them coming in and then we’ll see what we're all about, but as far as the first big test, we get an A+. On what this win says to the rest of the league."
Curtin said his players aren't afraid of any team in MLS, and the Atlanta win will only boost the confidence of a young player like Aaronson, who was called into the U.S. U-23 national team camp.
"Overall, Brenden had a great performance," he said. "It's great for him to hit the back of the net, cause I always talk to you guys, that's the one thing from 30 yards in, that we really want to work on and add to his game."
Curtin wouldn't say the Union outplayed Atlanta, which he admitted probably was suffering from fatigue, but he did say he was a proud coach.
"It's a fun team to watch," he added after giving a shout-out to the Keystone State Ultras and Sons of Ben, "and this stadium, Talen Energy, has become the place to be in September and October."
Elsewhere ... D.C. United's 3-0 win at Montreal, which ended a three-game losing streak, may have ended the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Toronto FC rallied to tie New England, 1-1, and moved into seventh place ahead of the Impact, which has played two more games than TFC and the Revs, the two teams it is in striking distance of reaching. United, which could have fallen below the red line with a loss, got two goals from newcomer Ola Kamara. It was again playing without Wayne Rooney, who was serving the final game of his three-game suspension.
1. (+1) *Philadelphia, 51 points (29)
2. (+1) *NYCFC, 50 points (27)
3. (-2) Atlanta United, 48 points (28)
4. (+1) D.C. United, 42 points (30)
5. (-1) NY Red Bulls, 41 points (29)
6. New England, 39 points (28)
7. (+1) Toronto FC, 38 points (28)
8. (-1) Montreal, 37 points (30)
9. Orlando City, 34 points (29)
10. Chicago, 34 points (30)
11. Columbus, 31 points (30)
12. FC Cincinnati, 18 points (28)
Note: In parentheses are games played.
*Clinched playoff berth.