After a hard-fought, gritty win in Minnesota last Saturday, Atlanta United returns to their home of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as they play host to MLS expansion side LAFC. ATL UTD (3-1-0) is seeking a fourth-straight victory while LAFC (2-1-0) is hoping to bounce back from their first loss of the season last weekend in the L.A. Derby. This will mark the first-ever meeting between the two sides: last year’s newcomers vs the new club on the block. Make sure you’re there for the showdown by securing your ticket here.
The match kicks off at 5:00 p.m. EST and will be nationally broadcast on ESPN. Click here for all the details on how to follow along with the match.
Atlanta United (3-1-0)
The Five Stripes have been red hot ever since their season-opening loss in Houston. Since, they’ve earned nine points in three matches, scoring eight goals while only conceding two themselves. Most recently they grinded out an impressive win on the road, down a man for the majority of the 90 and still managing to escape with a clean sheet from below-freezing temperatures in Minnesota.
The victory over the Loons was a statement in its own light on the defensive end, but at home, Atlanta have been their usual electric selves. Up front, forward Josef Martinez has already bagged four goals including a hat trick last time out against Vancouver, earning him the honor of MLS Player of the Week. Joining the Venezuelan international in the attack is Miguel Almirón and Tito Villalba, who have proven to be nightmares for opposing defenses with already two assists a piece. Also key in connecting the play has been Darlington Nagbe in the center of the pitch and Julian Gressel, who has come into his own in his newly-found right wingback role.
Going forward, they’ve brought the heat, but at the back they’ve been rock solid as well, with two late consolation goals the only goals allowed in the past three matches. However, this week they’ll be faced with yet another challenge: due to a red card suspension handed out in their last match, ATL UTD will play LAFC without the assistance of Leandro González Pirez. But as always, Martino’s next man up will step up when called and with the Five Stripe faithful at their backs, Atlanta United will enter Saturday’s match as confident as ever.
Just as Atlanta hit the ground running last season, LAFC have entered 2018 coming out of the gates hot. First, the expansion side traveled to Seattle and topped the 2016 MLS Cup Champions, and then earned another road win in an emphatic 5-1 thrashing of Real Salt Lake. They were minutes away from a perfect start as well but lost the lead late on thanks to a legendary late performance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy.
At the core of their early success thus far is their number 10, Mexican international Carlos Vela. With vision, skill and poise on the ball, and sitting right behind their front line, Vela has quickly become one of the league’s elite central playmakers. While most people knew what to expect from the Mexican maestro, LAFC’s other hero in the attack entered MLS under the radar. 20-year-old Uruguayan Diego Rossi has been brilliant up front, a perfect combination of skill and pace, the youngster leads his team in both goals (3) and assists (4).
In addition to some new talents to the league, head coach Bob Bradley also brought in some familiar MLS names including midfielder Benny Feilhaber, forward Marco Ureña, winger Latif Blessing and 2017 MLS Cup Champion Steven Beitashour on the back line, with a mix of young talent and MLS experience mirroring Atlanta United’s strategy entering the league last season. It’s proven successful thus far, and they’ve been particularly impressive having only played on the road. But LAFC have yet to face the Five Stripe faithful, so Saturday will present a brand-new challenge for the hot expansion side.
Saturday night will mark the first-ever meeting between two of the newest and most electric clubs in MLS, so you won’t want to miss a minute of this one. Make sure to tune in on ESPN for the 5:00 p.m. EST kickoff and for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.