Just days after securing their berth in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal, Atlanta United now travel across the country to face one of the perennial powerhouses in this league in Western Conference giants Seattle Sounders. These teams have shared the points each time they’ve faced each other in their history so far, and with both sitting in third place in their respective conferences, they will both be fighting for a win to stay within striking distance of the top.
Ahead of the major interconference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Lock down Lodeiro
There may be new faces on the field for Seattle since the last time these two faced each other, but the focal point of the attack remains the same in Uruguayan playmaker Nico Lodeiro. Lodeiro’s nine combined goals and assists leads his team yet again this year, and the Sounders will be looking to get the ball to him early and often to try to dictate the play in the attacking third. When he gets time on the ball, he becomes a deadly prospect combining with Peruvian striker Raúl Ruidíaz or wingers Jordan Morris and Victor Rodriguez. The likes of Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe and the centerbacks will have to hone in on cutting off service to Lodeiro and limit his time on the ball when he does get it to prevent him from making the killer pass. The more they can mark him out of the match, the better chance Atlanta United will have of coming out with a crucial road clean sheet.
Watch out for the Wings
Seattle is one of the most balanced teams in all of MLS, but they may be most effective on the wings. The return of Jordan Morris from USMNT duty at the Gold Cup is a major addition opposite Victor Rodriguez, while the likes of Brad Smith, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou Tolo make up perhaps the best team of fullbacks in the league at combining defense and getting forward in the attack. Shutting down service to the flanks will help, but it will take a big effort from Atlanta United’s fullbacks and wingers to prevent the ball from getting whipped back into the middle from the wide areas. If they can do that, the Five Stripes may be able to get their own wingers in behind Seattle’s fullbacks when they push up the field to create a chance of their own.
Feed the King
It didn’t take long for Atlanta United’s attacking talisman Josef Martinez to put the league on notice that he was back from this summer’s Copa America tournament, tallying twice against the Red Bulls last weekend and once more in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in his first two matches back with the red, black and godl. The reigning MVP is back to his very best with seven goals in his past four league matches –– and another two-goal performance this weekend would be his fourth straight brace, another record to fall before a man who’s become accustomed to making history in this league. The midseason retirement of longtime captain Chad Marshall may leave a void in the back line. If Josef Martinez can exploit that with a crucial road goal, it would give this team a chance to break the second-longest home unbeaten streak in the league.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 3:55 p.m. ET from CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and you can watch the match on ESPN. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.