With one Los Angeles team down, it’s time for the other team from the City of Angels for Atlanta United, with the Five Stripes hosting the LA Galaxy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend. It’s another stern test against a team right at the top of the Western Conference, but a rowdy home crowd of 17s could be the difference as Atlanta United looks to make it three wins out of three in their short history against the Galaxy.
Atlanta United (11-9-3)
The Five Stripes are looking for a win to keep pace with the top of the Eastern Conference as they continue their quest to secure home field advantage in the MLS Cup Playoffs. If other results go their way, they could move into first place in their conference for the first time this season, and could push all the way up into second place in the Supporters’ Shield race. Motivation is never a problem in front of the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but a result this weekend could be a big one.
While they fell just short on the road against LAFC last weekend, they know a performance like that will be enough to beat most teams in this league. They’ll have to do it without Leandro González-Pirez, who will be suspended for this weekend due to yellow card accumulation. Mikey Ambrose is also expected to sit with injury this weekend –– and while Tito Villalba, Kevin Kratz and George Bello have all been spotted back in training, this week is probably too soon to see them return to the starting lineup.
The good news for Atlanta United fans is Ezequiel Barco is back and available, showing the dynamic ability in Wednesday’s All-Star Game that stole the headlines earlier this season. If this weekend comes too soon for him to start, the rotating cast of Dion Pereira and Justin Meram have proven to be more than capable on that left wing. Expect Pity Martínez and Julian Gressel to lock down the right, looking to feed Josef Martinez’s quest for history once again. A goal this weekend would be nine straight matches with a goal in league play for the reigning MVP –– tying himself and Diego Valeri with the longest goal streaks in league history.
Emerson Hyndman, Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi have been the first-choice midfield of late, but don’t forget about the steely defense and veteran leadership that former Galaxy midfielder Jeff Larentowicz can provide. It will be interesting to see who lines up in the back to protect Brad Guzan in goal with LGP missing. Expect Franco Escobar and Miles Robinson to continue to lock down their roles, but Michael Parkhurst and Florentin Pogba are both capable of slotting right in –– while Mo Adams showed last weekend that he can be an instant contributor sliding from defensive midfield to the fullback position.
LA Galaxy (12-9-1)
Atlanta United are 2-0 in their history against the LA Galaxy, with a comfortable 4-0 win in 2017 their only meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium so far. But this year’s Galaxy team sit in third place in the Western Conference, so the Five Stripes should expect a tougher test this time around.
The Galaxy will have to make do without their talisman leading the front line, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. It’s a huge loss to be sure; Zlatan has scored more than half of the Galaxy’s goals this year, only the third player to do that for their team since 2007. He’s not the only one missing. Talented young playmaker Efrain Alvarez and first-choice center back Diego Polenta will also be out for this match after picking up red cards last time out against the Portland Timbers.
Those are three very important players for the Galaxy, but that doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park for Atlanta United. Zlatan’s absence means there’s less of a focal point for the Galaxy attack, but that could mean a little more dynamic forward line as opposed to a powerful target forward. The last time Zlatan was unavailable, Guillermo Barros Schelotto lined up a front three of Fabio Alvarez, Uriel Antuna and Emmanuel Boateng, a quick, fluid attacking trio. And while Zlatan’s goals steal the headlines, central midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos is right behind him in importance to the team, and will be a huge focal point for the Atlanta United midfield this weekend alongside Joe Corona. Polenta’s absence is a tough hole to fill in the back line, but David Bingham is a great shot-stopper in the Galaxy net, and ATL UTD has plenty of experience to know that a hot goalkeeper can turn a match on its head.
It’s another tough Western Conference opponent, but with the rowdy and proud 17s at Mercedes-Benz Stadium behind them, Atlanta United are confident against anyone who comes to town. Make sure you’re cheering on the Five Stripes at 5:00 p.m. ET on FOX Friday; click here for tickets or click here for all the ways to tune in.