Having already clinched a postseason berth, Atlanta United (15-9-8) are hunting for a number two seed and a first round bye as they head into their final two matches of the regular season. Atlanta travel north this weekend to face the New York Red Bulls (13-12-7) in a rematch of the expansion side’s inaugural game earlier this year where NY completed a 2-1 comeback. The Red Bulls may have spoiled the opener, but Atlanta are now a tested team, gunning for a high playoff seed and searching for redemption.
The match is set to kick off Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on FS1 and streamed live via FOX Sports GO.
Atlanta United (15-9-8)
After a grueling 24-day-stretch where they opened their new home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, played eight matches and in addition clinched their first-ever playoff berth, Atlanta United now find themselves in a position to determine their own postseason fate. Two wins would guarantee a home playoff match for the expansion side and could potentially bring them to number two in the East.
Coached by Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the exciting, fast-paced league newcomers have dazzled the field in 2017, scoring 68 goals through 32 matches. Spearheading the impressive tally is leading-goal scorer Josef Martinez, who despite only playing 18 matches is averaging a goal a game and sits just three behind Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic for the Golden Boot Race. While the team’s attacking flair has captured the hearts of the Atlanta supporters all season, it’s the back line who’ve stepped up recently to help secure their postseason position. After recording six clean sheets in the month of September, Atlanta’s 38 goals conceded on the season now ranks 3rd best in the league.
Last time on the road, ATL UTD battled with the Revolution to a 0-0 draw. While the defense will try to replicate their solid performance, they will need to find a way to trigger an offensive spark and return with three points from Red Bull Arena. With Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almirón still listed as questionable, Martino may have to turn to the likes of fellow South Americans Tito Villalba and Yamil Asad to orchestrate the attack up front as well as calling on Rookie of the Year candidate Julian Gressel who’s recorded at least a goal or an assist in four out of his last six matches.
The expansion side currently sit in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind New York City FC. If Atlanta United can win its last two matches with the help of an NYCFC loss, ATL UTD would finish second in the table and receive a first round bye in their first-ever MLS Cup playoffs appearance.
New York Red Bulls (13-12-7)
The New York Red Bulls will also continue their season past the next two matches as they’ve already booked their ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs as well. While Atlanta hope to get revenge on the Eastern Conference opponents from up north this weekend, it’s going to be difficult against a Red Bulls side that are unbeaten in their last seven MLS home games. And the Atlanta defense will have to be on top of their game as NY is averaging 2.7 goals per game across those seven matches.
New York has been one of the strongest sides in MLS in recent years in large part due to having one of the league’s all-time most prolific scorers in Bradley Wright-Phillips. The 2014 and 2016 Golden Boot Winner is a menace up front, scoring 17 already this season. And behind him feeding the fearless forward lies the league’s assist leader in Sacha Klejstan, who has 17 on the year.
Keljstan and the team will hope to put BWP in similar threatening situations on Sunday as they have recently. New York recorded eight shots on target against Vancouver last weekend, making it the third time in their last five games they’ve at minimum matched that number (averaging 4.9 shots on target per game this season).
The Red Bulls sit in 6th place with two matches remaining, and will more than likely end up traveling for a knockout round matchup to kick off their playoff journey. However, two wins to close out the season coupled with some major slip ups from Chicago and Columbus could see the Red Bulls slide into a 4th place finish and hosting the knockout match. So plenty still lies on the line for NYRB heading into Sunday’s contest with Atlanta.
- FOX Sports GO