Atlanta United still has seven matches left in their regular season, but their chance to clinch a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs is already here. With postseason aspirations and international competition spots at play, here’s where we stand heading into the weekend:
First and foremost is the primary team goal this season: a deep run at the MLS Cup. That all starts with clinching a spot in the postseason, and that could come as early this weekend, despite Atlanta United having the weekend off. If D.C. United draws or loses this Saturday, they and the Montreal Impact would each have to win all of their remaining games to have a mathematic possibility of the Five Stripes falling below the red playoff line. Since D.C and Montreal still meet one more time before the end of the regular season, that wouldn’t be possible. Bottom line: anything but a win for D.C. this weekend against NYCFC means Atlanta United would officially clinch their spot in the postseason.
That doesn’t mean the regular season will be over by any stretch for Atlanta United, with the Supporters’ Shield and all-important playoff seeding still to play for. With the Red Bulls also taking the weekend off, the Supporters’ Shield chase shouldn’t have any moment between the top two contenders. But teams like NYCFC, Sporting KC and the Portland Timbers will all be in action and each still have a shot at catching up with the top of the pack. Meanwhile clinching a home playoff game will also have to wait, with the Philadelphia Union –– the primary challenger for that spot –– also taking the weekend off.
But any Atlanta United fan will tell you a first-round bye can be a massive boost to get the club past that tricky single-leg first round match that ended the Five Stripes’ season last year. The main challenge for that first-round bye is NYCFC, currently sitting in third place, who does play over the weekend. Any combination of 13 points either gained by Atlanta United or dropped by NYCFC would clinch that first-round bye, so that number could go down to 10 with a Cityzens loss this weekend. In short, that D.C./NYCFC match is the biggest for Atlanta United to keep an eye on this weekend, with playoff implications on multiple levels for the Five Stripes.
CONCACAF Champions League
From the beginning, a major goal for Atlanta United has been to qualify for their regional international competition, the CONCACAF Champions League, and they could do that as soon as next season. The final qualification spot for next year will go to the team with the best aggregate record over the past two season. Atlanta United currently sits at 109 points, with the Red Bulls and NYCFC tied for second four points behind, with each having played a game more. While the Red Bulls will stay four points back with both teams inactive this weekend, a bad result for NYCFC could turn the race for that final spot in international competition into a two-team race.