Are the Union a good team? The MLS standings say not quite yet

Eleven observations on the Union in the midst of their four-game unbeaten streak:

Jim Curtin is right to ask out loud whether he has a good team. But the standings still offer an answer that isn’t the one he’d like. The Union remained in seventh place in the East after Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Chicago. Get into the top six, which are the playoff places, and the answer will start to change. That might not be polite, but call it a hunch that Curtin knows, too.

• The big jump might not come Saturday night, when the Union visit Atlanta United. Atlanta is likely to be in a foul mood after blowing a win at New England on Wednesday by giving up an 88th-minute penalty kick. That came after a rare home loss, last Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

Cory Burke now has two goals in two starts. Coincidence, or something more? Curtin’s words in Mitchell Gladstone’s story on Burke seemed to send a message. “I think Cory has earned every minute he has got,” Curtin said. “I think the fans see that and that’s a good thing.”

• What makes Burke different from C.J. Sapong? For one thing, he gets on the ball more in the final third. This subject was noted in a previous column, and it’s worth noting again. Here are Burke’s touches against Chicago (on the left) compared with Sapong’s touches against the Red Bulls (on the right, including the missed penalty kick):

Graphics representing Cory Burke's map of touches for the Philadelphia Union against the Chicago Fire (left), and C.J. Sapong's touches for the Union against the New York Red Bulls (right).

• Borek Dockal took the spotlight Wednesday night, but Haris Medunjanin deserved it, too. Medunjanin created five chances on offense and had two interceptions on defense. He played well against the Red Bulls too, with three key passes, two interceptions and this nifty little feint:

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Ray Gaddis tied his career high for shots in a game with two against Chicago. It was the first time in two years that he recorded two shots in a game. It’s not a big number, granted, but it’s a sign that he’s getting better at being a two-way left back.

• Was the foul that referee Fotis Bazakos gave as a penalty kick the right call? We don’t know what replay officials said, but we do know what TV viewers saw at home. From that footage, the call was right.

Philadelphia Union striker Cory Burke was tackled just inside the 18-yard box late in the win over the Chicago Fire, leading to a penalty kick.
Camera icon Via MLS and ESPN
Philadelphia Union striker Cory Burke was tackled just inside the 18-yard box late in the win over the Chicago Fire, leading to a penalty kick.

• There was always a good chance that Jack Elliott would stand in for Mark McKenzie in Atlanta, but it’s almost certain now because of McKenzie’s knee injury suffered during Wednesday’s game.

• We still don’t know who the mystery Bethlehem Steel player is who will join the Union’s U.S. Open Cup roster for Tuesday’s game against Richmond. Expect an announcement before Tuesday.

• Speaking of Bethlehem, Union academy product Jeremy Rafanello made his Steel debut last weekend in a 1-0 loss at the Ottawa Fury. The 18-year-old forward from Delran is headed to Penn State — coached by former Union academy coach Jeff Cook — in the fall.

• Lastly, a note on the Open Cup. It’s a big deal, even if it isn’t always treated that way. America’s oldest soccer competition is now in its 105th year, and has a proud history in Pennsylvania. Teams from this state have won the title 14 times, including the original Bethlehem Steel five times. The last winner from the Philadelphia area was the Ukrainian Nationals in 1966.

Union at Atlanta United

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

TV: PHL17

Union’s record: 5-5-3, 18 points (7th in the East); 1-4-1 on the road
Atlanta’s record: 8-3-2, 26 points (1st in the East); 4-2-1 at home

Series history: Union 0 wins, Atlanta 1 win, 1 tie
At Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Union 0 wins, Atlanta 1 win, 0 ties

Atlanta players to watch

F Josef Martínez: A powerful runner and lethal finisher, the Venezuelan enters the weekend as MLS’ top scorer with nine goals this season.

M Miguel Almirón: He’s one of the most fun players to watch in the league. After registering nine goals and 14 assists last year, he has six goals and five assists so far this year.

M Ezequiel Barco: The 19-year-old midfielder is starting to justify his MLS-record $15 million transfer fee.