No MLS hangover: Philadelphia Union turns Concacaf Champions League exit into positive

Many of MLS's best teams have struggled after exiting the Concacaf Champions League.

The Philadelphia Union's season could have taken a turn for the worse after it lost its second 2-0 decision to Club America that knocked it out of the Concacaf club championship in the semifinals.

Instead, the Union has rebounded with a 3-1 win over Orlando City and 1-0 win over Atlanta United to move into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Indeed, Union coach Jim Curtin termed Saturday's win over Atlanta United "overall our best performance of the season."



Atlanta United came into the game a three-game winning streak under new head coach Gonzalo Pineda. There was a lot of talk that the Five Stripes had rediscovered the swagger that made them MLS's most feared over their first three seasons in the league.

But Philadelphia dominated the match, forcing Brad Guzan into eight saves, one shy of tying a club record. The Union finally broke through in the 71st minute when Kacper Przybylko slotted home a cross from Jose Martinez.

Curtin admitted all the talk about Atlanta United motivated his players:
 
"In some ways, maybe the players were a little extra motivated just reading all the headlines this week about how good Atlanta is and certainly they are an incredible team. Very good attacking players, but we think we have a good team, too. They probably got sick and tired of hearing me pump up Atlanta, too, and talking about how dangerous all their players are on the field."

The Union's resurgence came after it had lost its last two MLS games before breaking for the second leg. The defeats left the Union with a record of 8-7-8 that dropped it into the pack among half a dozen teams on the bubble fighting for playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. Curtin said Union used its performance against America in the second leg -- it lost on two second-half goals after Jamiro Monteiro missed a penalty kick shortly after halftime -- to give it renewed confidence.

“That game is a barometer and a point in our season where when you have the heartbreak of losing a semifinal where you're actually, I thought, played really, really well. Guys can shrink and get smaller and they can go in a negative way. Or they can say, 'You know what? We played against the best team on this continent and dominated them for stretches and let's take that now into the league.'"

“I thought with the next results against Orlando and now Atlanta, against two opponents that -- I would say Atlanta's at least on par in terms of the talent of a Club America and the spending of a Club America. To go toe to toe with them and outplay them today is something to really build on, so I give all the credit to the players for their character and their ability to now get bigger rather than shrink when you lose a tough game in Concacaf Champions League.”

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