Atlanta United begins its final three-match homestand of the regular season on Wednesday night when the 5-Stripes host New York City FC. It’s another critical matchup in the race for the Eastern Conference playoffs as both teams are in the playoff mix. Atlanta is coming off a big 2-0 road win at Toronto FC, the first-ever win at BMO Field for the 5-Stripes, and look to carry that momentum into Wednesday’s contest. The victory vaulted Atlanta into fifth spot in the table. NYCFC lost 1-0 in the Hudson River Derby and dropped below the playoff line into eighth position. Five points separate fourth from ninth in the Eastern Conference playoffs coming into Wednesday, so plenty is to be decided over the last few weeks of the regular season. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
Strike Early and Often
Atlanta United is back at home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the 5-Stripes have re-established their home dominance throughout the second half of the season. Since August, Atlanta has won six of seven home matches and outscored opponents 13-4 in those seven matches. With the next three matches played at home, Atlanta’s home form could be the difference maker in not only earning a playoff spot, but potentially climbing into a home playoff spot (top-4 teams host first round playoff matchups). This season, Atlanta has scored first 10 times in the 14 home matches it has played so far, and the team’s record in those 10 matches is 8-0-2. Getting the first goal on Wednesday night will be one of the keys to success against NYCFC, a team that Atlanta United has never lost to at home (3-0-1 record all-time at home).
Watch Out for Castellanos and Moralez
Despite NYCFC’s recent form, they possess a formidable attack that can cause defenses problems. Valentin Castellanos has scored 13 goals which ranks him tied for sixth in MLS this season. He’s also added seven assists, showcasing that he is one of the most complete forwards in the league. Another mainstay in the NYCFC attack over the past several years is Maxi Moralez. The midfielder leads the team once again in assists with nine coming into Wednesday. If you allow those two space and time in the center of the park, they will create opportunities. As a team, NYCFC has created 335 chances which ranks them second in MLS ahead of Wednesday’s match. Atlanta’s defense, which has been stellar over the last few matches, will have to keep an eye on those two in order to pick up three points.
Let Moreno Orchestrate the Attack
Marcelino Moreno made his return to the starting lineup against Toronto last time out and showed why he’s one of the best midfielders in MLS. The Argentine was everywhere and contributed to Atlanta’s victory in multiple ways. He scored the second goal and led the team in total shots (7), shots on goal (4) and fouls won (9). In fact, he ranks second in MLS this season with 92 fouls won, always providing an outlet for Atlanta’s defense to relieve pressure. In his second season with the 5-Stripes, Moreno has now scored eight goals and added five assists.
Getting Moreno on the ball allows his teammates to make runs for him since he’s one of the best dribblers in the league. His ability to create off the dribble, off the pass or take a shot from distance gives Atlanta’s attack diversity and will be key against NYCFC.