Match Preview: Atlanta United at New York City FC

Hot off the heels of a hat-trick propelled home win and a U.S. Open Cup fourth round victory, Atlanta United (9-3-2) will look to keep the momentum rolling this weekend as they travel up north to face New York City FC (8-3-3). The Five Stripes sit at the top of the Eastern Conference as well as the Supporters’ Shield standings, but NYCFC are close on their tail just two points behind. So while Atlanta looks to extend their lead, NYC are hoping overtake the number one spot with a win.

The match between the Eastern Conference front-runners kicks off at 12:30 p.m. EST on FOX Sports Southeast and FOX Sports GO. Click here for all the details on how to follow along with the match.

Atlanta United (9-3-2)

After a tough stretch of one win in four matches, ATL UTD are back to winning ways. Last weekend they topped the Philadelphia Union in a 3-1 victory powered by a Josef Martinez hat trick and midweek, they kept the ball rolling with another dominant three-goal performance to put them past the Charleston Battery, advancing the club to the 5th round of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup. It’s exactly the results they were looking for as they return to league play this weekend to face their closest competitor at the top of the East.

Snagging the headlines during their current stretch is forward Josef Martinez who earned MLS Player of the Week for a stellar week. Not only did his 5th career MLS hat trick tie an all-time record, but his four goals last week brought his total to 12 on the season, putting him three ahead of the next best in this year’s Golden Boot race. Behind him, the reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year in Miguel Almirón has also been impressive from the number 10 role, spearheading every Atlanta attack, so far recording six assists and just as many goals, playmaking his way into the MLS Team of the Week once again.

Also in the midfield are 2018 additions Darlington Nagbe and Ezequiel Barco who – with their elite technical skill and quickness – have seamlessly integrated into Tata Martino’s free-flowing, possession-oriented system. And the architect’s plans seem to be working out nicely through the first part of the season as Martino’s men have scored a league-leading 30 goals through 14 matches driving them to 29 points at the top of the table. In particular, they’ve been strong on the road, holding the best away record in the league with no losses since the season opener. So the Five Stripes will look to maintain that unbeaten road run in New York City on Saturday.

New York City FC (8-3-3)

New York City FC is off to their best start yet since joining the league. With 27 points, they sit 2nd in the Eastern Conference and 3rd in the Supporters’ Shield standings and just as Atlanta have been impressive on the road, NYCFC have been even more dominant at home, unbeaten with a 6-0-0 record. Their six-straight wins at Yankee Stadium not only mark a franchise record, but they’ve outscored their opponents 18-2 in that time.

Leading the charge for their 29 goals this season (2nd most in the league) is their team MVP for the last three seasons: forward David Villa. Former UEFA Euro and World Cup champion, the Spanish international has taken the league by storm with his goal-scoring prowess up front, leading his team with eight so far this year and 71 total in his brief MLS career. Behind him, pulling the strings as he did all of last season, is crafty, Argentine maestro Maximiliano Moralez. And with six goals and five assists so far, he’s already on pace to double both of his tallies from last season.

But Villa and Moralez are not their only attacking threats, and they used their offseason to reinforce their front line after the departure of winger Jack Harrison. At the tick of the new year, NYCFC signed Paraguayan youngster Jesus Medina who – with his slick passing ability and a soccer IQ past his age – co-leads his team with five assists. Not long after, they also brought on Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, a 24-year-old pacey forward who can play anywhere along the attacking line and who’s proven to be just as much of a goal-threat as David Villa with seven goals in just 11 appearances. Patrick Vieira has his new pieces and his strongholds clicking on all cylinders at Yankee Stadium, and they’ll hope to do it again this Saturday against the Five Stripes.

Don’t miss a minute as Atlanta United and NYCFC go head to head for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Make sure you tune in on FOX Sports Southeast for the 12:30 p.m. EST kickoff, and for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.