Atlanta United face a tough matchup in their first-ever Major League Soccer match and home opener as they host 2016 Eastern Conference Regular Season Champion New York Red Bulls tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET. A mix of Internationals, MLS veterans, and promising young talent, the expansion club will look to kick off their MLS existence with a statement victory. Ahead of tonight’s Eastern Conference clash, we broke down the Tools to the Match for Atlanta United presented by Home Depot.
1) Score Early
Atlanta enters today’s match coming off four straight preseason matches where they opened the scoring before the 10-minute mark. With the likes of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almirón, and Tito Villalba up front, ATL UTD will try to continue that routine and spark that momentum early on. Coupled with a 54,000+ sellout crowd, if Atlanta United can grab a quick lead, New York could find themselves in a difficult hole to escape from.
2) Shut Down Bradley Wright-Phillips
Atlanta United will have their hands full with a RBNY front line led by 2016 Golden Boot recipient, Bradley Wright-Phillips. A goal-scoring rampage of 74 tallies in the past three seasons, he will be looking to continue that form in 2017, so Atlanta’s back four will need to be mindful of his whereabouts at all times. To add to the fire, New York’s attack is also equipped with a clever passer in Sacha Klejstan. Fortunately, Atlanta’s defense has some experience against this dangerous Red Bull duo with MLS veterans Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears who will be key in securing the home net.
3) Expose the Hole Left by Dax McCarty’s Absence
In January, in a surprise exchange for allocation money, New York Red Bulls traded midfielder Dax McCarty to Chicago Fire for General Allocation Money. Not only a key part of their play for six seasons but dubbed “irreplaceable” by teammate Wright-Phillips because of his impact both on and off the field for the club. McCarty has been New York’s rock, providing a physical presence and always a prompt distributer. Without their long-term midfield anchor and leader, New York may not be as polished of a midfield as they once were. Atlanta United could take advantage today and look to expose the gaps left in the middle of the pitch.