Atlanta United still has eight matches left in their regular season, but their chance to clinch a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs is already here. With postseason aspirations, international competition, and more chances at history at play, here’s where we stand heading into the weekend:
First and foremost is the primary team goal this season, including a deep run at the MLS Cup Playoffs. That all starts with clinching a spot, and that could come as early this weekend. The most straightforward for the team to clinch is easy: win. Three points would clinch their spot with seven matches still to play. But there’s a chance they will have already qualified before they even make it to the field. If both the Montreal Impact and the New England Revolution drop points –– as in a draw or loss for either team –– Atlanta United will mathematically qualify.
Another primary team goal is winning the Supporters’ Shield, which is awarded to the team with the best regular season record in Major League Soccer. Going into the weekend, the team leads the league in points per game and sit only a point behind New York Red Bulls, who have played one match more. Several other clubs are plenty close enough to catch up, most notably NYCFC, Sporting KC and FC Dallas. But with Atlanta and New York both on pace to make a run at the all-time regular season points record, they are the main team the Five Stripes will have an eye on this weekend.
CONCACAF Champions League
From the beginning, a major goal for Atlanta United has been to qualify for their regional international competition, the CONCACAF Champions League, and they could do that as soon as next season. The final qualification spot for next year will go to the team with the best aggregate record over the past two season. Atlanta United currently sits at 109 points, with the Red Bulls and NYCFC tied for second four points behind. Just another budding race between the Five Stripes’ two Eastern Conference opponents in the Big Apple.
It seems Atlanta United breaks another record every week, but there are two up for grabs for the red, black and gold this week. First the team goal: a win in D.C. this weekend would be Atlanta’s ninth road win this season, which would tie the all-time league record for road wins in a season in the non-shootout era. Only four teams (San Jose 2005, LA Galaxy 2010, Seattle 2011, San Jose 2012) have managed that many in a season. Meanwhile, Josef Martinez is shooting at history once again. Just a week after he broke the single-season MLS record for goals in a season, a goal this weekend would be his tenth match in a row bulging the back of the net. That would set him apart alone atop the record books, with Diego Valeri’s nine last year the current all-time scoring streak record.
The team will be singularly focused on one thing: getting a big road win against a strong team in D.C. United. But there are plenty of chances for them to achieve something much bigger than this single result.