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Union-Atlanta United Preview
Just two games into the MLS regular season is far too early to panic.
Even if a team were the defending champion, had earned just one point out of a possible six and its new coach had already insulted its fans, it would still be too early to panic, right?
Atlanta United enters Sunday's match against the Philadelphia Union full of uneasiness and desperately in need of three points.
Atlanta's opening-weekend 2-0 loss at D.C. United - along with a 3-0 first-leg defeat to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League - raised some concern. Last weekend's 1-1 draw at home against expansion FC Cincinnati escalated that worry quite a bit.
Sunday began as a celebration for the Five Stripes, raising their 2018 MLS Cup Champions banner in front of over 70,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Josef Martinez's fifth-minute goal added to the festive atmosphere.
But Atlanta was unable to convert any other chances despite controlling play. FC Cincinnati managed just one shot on target, an 86th-minute equalizer from Roland Lamah that stole two points from Atlanta.
The team seems to miss the creativity and vision of departed attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, who piled up 14 assists last year.
Team supporters lamented the result and a chorus of boos serenaded the defending champs at the final whistle, leading first-year Atlanta coach Frank de Boer to call the team's fans "spoiled," a remark he apologized for later in the week.
"It's important for the supporters to support the team," de Boer said. "Push them as they always do and did against Cincinnati - to be supporters and be the 12th man behind them. 'Spoiled' was probably the wrong pronouncement."
Even de Boer, however, admitted the result against FCC was "disappointing," and a poor showing at home against 0-2-0 Philadelphia could send the fanbase into revolt.
The Union is coming off a 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City, a match that attacking midfielder Marco Fabian would like to forget.
The Mexican national was denied on a penalty attempt in the 41st minute by SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia. In the 60th minute, Fabian received a straight red card for stepping on SKC's Johnny Russell, dooming the Union to play down a man while trailing 1-0.
Fabian jumped to avoid a sliding Russell and landed on his torso and forearm. Fabian insisted the contact was an accident.
"I don't know, I can't explain. But I don't want to hit this player, I just jump and I landed on him because I don't have a place to land," Fabian said after the game. "Sometimes the decision is from the referee, I want to respect this decision."
Fabian will be forced to miss Sunday's game because of the red card.
Early-season losses have become all too common for Philadelphia, which is 8-14-8 in March in franchise history. The Union began last season 2-5-2 before rallying to make the playoffs.
"I still think that if you take a perspective of what our team accomplished last year, the pieces that we added, I think we still have a strong group," head coach Jim Curtin said after the loss to Sporting KC. "We do have a sense of urgency to get our first points of the year."
Updated March 15, 2019