The last time Atlanta United played the New York Red Bulls, it was a night of mixed emotion: the first match, the first goal, but also the first loss. While vengeance is on Atlanta United’s minds, they know this is a much different game.
“That was the first game of the season,” Martino told reporters through a translator, “so I think both teams have come a long way in the ten months since. Even in that game, there were probably a lot of nerves going into it. But we know in ten months a lot has changed.”
Both teams are coming off important months in which they’ve clinched their spots in the postseason. But the international break came at a good time for both teams to regroup and prepare mentally for the final season-defining stretch.
“The guys look good, full of energy,” said Brad Guzan. “We’re ready for a strong push here to finish the regular season in a good way. We all know it’s a whole other beast once you get into the playoffs, so we want to finish these two games in a positive way and go make a run in the playoffs.”
This weekend’s Red Bulls rematch is on the road, where Atlanta United have been a tough team to beat. Developing that defensive solidity and mental toughness could be crucial in the Five Stripes’ first-ever postseason run.
“If you can go on the road and grind out tough results, you know that will definitely give you an advantage,” rookie midfielder Julian Gressel said. “Especially the way we play at home and how teams don’t want to play us at home. Going into the second leg with a 0-0 at home, I’d take our chances any day with that.”
Atlanta United’s final two matches are tough tests. First they will face a Red Bulls side unbeaten in seven home matches, then they will host the Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in their final home match of the regular season. But the squad is embracing the challenge.
“If you want to achieve important things, you have to play everybody,” Carlos Carmona said through a translator. “We want to finish high, and we know these are two important games for us against two good teams.”
But regardless of the opponent, the team is focused on gaining their own momentum and finishing the season strong as they head into the postseason.
“The mindset is to win,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “It’s the last game before the first playoff game so you want to continue to perform well. I think [our mindset] is to win the games and to keep the team going.”
“We still have a chance at the second seed and that’s our goal,” added Yamil Asad. “We let a good opportunity slip away in the last game, but mathematically speaking it can still happen and our goal is the highest level in the table as possible.”
Sunday’s match kicks off at 5 p.m. Sunday from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. The match will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports GO as well as our radio partners: WAOK 1380 AM and La Mejor Radio.