Union manager Jim Curtin and captain Alejandro Bedoya know they’re in for a big-time reception when they get to Atlanta this weekend, and it won’t be the kind with flowers and hors d’oeuvres.
Sunday’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been circled on calendars across Major League Soccer for months, ever since the Union knocked Atlanta United out of the Concacaf Champions League. From the Union’s wild 3-0 win down south in the first leg to the trash talk between the managers at both games, the series was full of highlights that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Obviously something will be made of the interaction that we had … but that’s just two coaches that want their team to win and had a little bit of a disagreement on some things,” Curtin said. “But nothing but respect for them. … Their fans are incredible, I’m sure they’ll have some things to say to me, but at the same time those are the games you want to play in — against top teams in our league in hostile environments.”
It’s fitting that the reunion will be nationally televised on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, right after the marquee Italy vs. Wales game at the European Championships. That game starts at noon, and the Union are set to kick off at 2:13 p.m.
The expected crowd of around 42,000 will be the largest the Union have played in front of since their last game before the COVID-19 pandemic began. It won’t be every seat in the house, but it will be the full capacity of the stadium’s soccer configuration, in which the upper deck is curtained off.
“As the away team, you live off of that energy as well,” Bedoya said. “I can’t wait to hear the boos and whatnot. It’s what makes the game fun and interesting.”
The players’ uniforms will have special lettering and numbering designed by an Indianapolis-based artist who was connected to the league by former Union defender Ray Gaddis. In the coming weeks, the jerseys will be auctioned off to benefit organizations supporting Black communities in each team’s local market.
Atlanta will also debut a new jersey with a unity theme, after unveiling it Thursday night at the city’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Players in Gold Cup contention
As expected, a number of Union players are on preliminary lists submitted to Concacaf for potential Gold Cup call-ups later this summer. Each of the 25 teams in the tournament — 12 in the preliminary rounds, 13 set for the 16-team group stage — were allowed to submit 60-player preliminary lists before picking a final 23 by the start of the preliminary rounds on July 2.
Midfielder Leon Flach is on the United States’ list, a great reward for the 20-year-old who has done so well in his first year here.
Goalkeeper Andre Blake, striker Cory Burke, and newly signed right back Alvas Powell are on Jamaica’s list. Goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh is on Trinidad and Tobago’s list, and 19-year-old reserve team striker Shanyder Borgelin is on Haiti’s list.
» READ MORE: Union sign Alvas Powell as backup right back
Former Union players on preliminary lists include centerbacks Auston Trusty (United States) and Steven Vitória (Canada), and midfielders Chavany Willis (Jamaica) and Roland Alberg (Suriname).
Union to host Rob McIlhenny’s Welsh team
It better be sunny on July 29 at Subaru Park. Wrexham, a Welsh team in England’s fifth tier part-owned by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia creator and star Rob McIlhenny, will visit the Union that night for an exhibition game. Tickets will be free, with fans encouraged to bring food to donate to Philadbundance.
McIlhenny, a Philadelphia native, told WMMR-FM on Friday that he plans to be at the game. His Wrexham co-owner, actor Ryan Reynolds, is working on a movie but will try to be there too. They bought the team in February and are producing a documentary series about their work with the club.