We’ve reached the final week of the 2021 MLS Regular Season and Atlanta United has a chance to punch its Audi MLS Cup Playoff ticket on Wednesday night. The 5-Stripes travel to Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls. Atlanta enters the match in sixth place in the standings with 47 points, while New York sits just one point behind them in seventh place. With a victory, the 5-Stripes would secure a spot in the playoffs. If they draw, they could still punch their postseason ticket if Montreal loses or draw vs. Houston (both matches kickoff at 7:30pm on Wednesday night). Let’s take a look at Wednesday’s Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
Make History at Red Bull Arena
Road matches against the New York Red Bulls have proven to be a tricky assignment for Atlanta United over the years. The 5-Stripes record on the road at Red Bull Arena sits at 0-3-1 coming into Wednesday’s showdown. The only point came all the way back in 2017 when ATLUTD drew 0-0 against the New York Red Bulls. Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda’s side already made team history a couple weeks ago when Atlanta secured its first-ever win at BMO Field against Toronto FC. He will look to do the same on Wednesday night, and clinch the team’s Audi MLS Cup Playoff spot with a first road win at Red Bull Arena.
In order to secure the three points, Atlanta’s attack has to continue to produce. Brazilian winger Luiz Araújo is on a five-match scoring streak coming into Wednesday. The 5-Stripes have also been looking dangerous in transition in recent weeks. They have been credited with 26 fast break opportunities this season, second-most in MLS only behind New England (31). New York will employ its high-press once again and Atlanta knows if it can break through the first couple of lines, transition opportunities should present themselves.
Contain Klimala and Fabio
One of New York’s strengths this season has been a balanced attack. Seven different players have scored multiple goals for the Red Bulls. Polish striker Patryk Klimala leads the team with eight goals and seven assists on the season. They also enter Wednesday’s match with a ton of confidence having won five of their last six matches to climb back into postseason contention. Four of those five wins have come by a score of 1-0 as the defense around goalkeeper Carlos Coronel has shut down opposing attackers. The New York Red Bulls have produced 12 clean sheets this season, tied for the second-highest total in MLS coming into the final week. Atlanta’s defense needs to know where Klimala and Fabio are at all times, while the attack has to capitalize on scoring chances against the stingy Red Bulls defense.
Continue to Attack on the Flanks
Atlanta United’s wingbacks or outside backs have been catalysts for the attack all season long. Brooks Lennon leads the team with 74 created chances, while George Bello is healthy and setting career-highs in games played (27), games started (24) and minutes played (2,253) coming into Wednesday. They provide the width in the attack, while also playing solid on the defensive end as well. Lennon leads all of MLS with 41 successful open crosses coming into the final week of the regular season. With both Bello and Lennon occupying the flanks, they allow Atlanta’s other creative midfielders like Araújo, Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno the space and freedom in the middle of the pitch to create opportunities. Atlanta is creating 10.5 chances per match this season, which ranks them ninth in MLS. On Wednesday, they will need to convert the chances they get against a tough defensive side in New York Red Bulls.