After a week where Atlanta United avenged last year’s playoff exit with a 3-1 win over Columbus at home and later completed their sweep of Orlando City with a 2-1 win in enemy territory, the Five Stripes maintain their place at the top of the table and are now in full control of their Supporters’ Shield destiny. With eight matches now remaining, here’s how Atlanta find themselves in the driver’s seat:
Despite leading the Eastern Conference and the Supporters’ Shield race for the majority of the season, both New York clubs have been nipping at Atlanta’s heels with games in hand. So it’s never been a true lead until last week – when the battle to make NY blue or red ended in a 1-1 draw, an ideal result for the Five Stripes. Now, with all three teams even on games played (26), Atlanta United stands alone at 54 points as an outright leader for the Shield.
Defeating New York Red Bulls
But while they sit in the driver’s seat, it’s no time for Atlanta to be comfortable. The Red Bulls are just two points behind and have yet to lose to ATL UTD in the club’s short history. The two teams will clash for their second meeting of the year on September 30th at Red Bull Arena for a match that could ultimately decide who finishes at the top of the East and who takes home the Shield come the end of October.
Maintaining the lead on New York City FC
And even with NYCFC just a little more behind in the rear view, there’s more on the line than just finishing at the top of the table. In addition to the race for the Shield and a high playoff seed, Atlanta United will be looking to secure a spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions’ League. Their main competitor? NYCFC.
Only two spots remain for the 2019 CCL – one will be awarded to the 2018 MLS Cup Champion, and the other to the best aggregate record over the 2017 and 2018 seasons. And after taking a glance at this year’s standings coupled with 2017, it’s looking like that second spot will come down to one of two teams: Atlanta United or NYCFC. Last year, NYCFC finished two points head of the expansion side in the table, but this year Atlanta United leads them by a six-point spread. So, if the Five Stripes can maintain their current pace, it’s likely they will lock up a spot in the next CCL cycle, the first in the club’s history.
Perhaps not on the front of the minds of Tata Martino and his men but in addition to the various scoring and attendance records set by the club, there is yet another historic milestone that could be reached with a strong finish to the season. The MLS all-time point record for a single season was cracked by Toronto’s historic run in 2017 when they finished with a total of 69 points. Atlanta United currently sit on 54 points with 8 matches left to play (24 possible points) so if they are to finish the season in convincing fashion, Atlanta could engrave their name in the record books once again – this one has the chance to be quite poetic. Last year’s decision day matchup featured Toronto earning their record-breaking point in Atlanta, so if Atlanta were to break the record on their final day this season, how fitting for the moment to occur on Toronto’s turf. Keep an eye out for that matchup coming on October 28th at BMO Field.
There’s plenty ahead in the remainder of the MLS regular season, but the Five Stripes are focused on what’s at hand, and that is a matchup in D.C. to face their northern United neighbors. Make sure to catch the match on FS1 this Sunday at 7:30pm.