There aren’t many better judges of how big Saturday’s Union-Atlanta United game is than Haris Medunjanin.
“I always like to play against good teams, especially when they think they are better than you,” Medunjanin said. “I always like the underdog position, to show that they are wrong.”
That quote will certainly play well with Philadelphia fans. And the Union probably will be the underdog Saturday, even though the two teams are tied on points atop the Eastern Conference.
“I think we are up to this, and we need to show people why we are here, because everybody is doubting us,” Medunjanin said. “They think we came with luck over here, that we are not a good team.”
Atlanta’s attack is a murderer’s row of some of MLS’ biggest stars: Josef Martínez, Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, Ezequiel Barco, Julian Gressel and Darlington Nagbe.
Josef Martínez is on an MLS-record scoring streak of 17 goals in 12 games. Gonzalo Martínez came to Atlanta this season as the reigning South American Player of the Year for an MLS-record $14 million transfer fee. He has blown hot and cold this year, but is hot at the moment: He scored the winning goal in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final against Minnesota United.
“He has a left foot that not a lot of people have, and he can shoot from any distance,” Medunjanin said. “People expect from him that he’s going to be [Lionel] Messi, but it’s very difficult when you come to another country, learn a new language. You need to adapt a little bit, and I think he’s adapting very well right now.”
The task facing the Union’s midfield Saturday will be even more difficult because captain Alejandro Bedoya is out, suspended because of yellow card accumulation. Medunjanin backed his teammates to step up, especially star playmaker Marco Fabián.
“I think Marco will [want] to show himself in this big game,” Medunjanin said. “He’s facing a little bit of pressure, and he wants to be part of this team. Hopefully, he’s going to step up big for us.”
Atlanta manager Frank de Boer has also had a rocky year, after replacing popular MLS Cup-winning coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. The reigning champs started the year on a four-game winless streak, and played some dull soccer.
But Atlanta has won 9 of its last 10 games, and has lifted two trophies: the Open Cup and the Campeones Cup against Mexican champion Club América. That has helped quiet the haters.
Medunjanin played for de Boer on Netherlands youth teams in the mid-2000s, before representing Bosnia was an option. He isn’t surprised de Boer has gotten things right.