Match Preview: Atlanta United at Colorado Rapids

Atlanta United is looking to come back from the international break with a win as they kick off a two-match road trip out west against the Colorado Rapids in Denver. With the Supporters’ Shield still the Five Stripes’ primary regular season goal, and with the Red Bulls at their heels every week, Atlanta United will be eager for a win to earn the edge in the final stretch of the season.

The match is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST Saturday from Denver, Colorado. For those who can’t make the trip, tune in on Univision or stream the match live on Twitter. Click here for all the other ways to follow along with the match.

Atlanta United (16-5-6)

Atlanta United still control their own destiny in their quest for the Supporters’ Shield, the honor for the best record in the regular season. But after a disappointing end to their eight-match unbeaten run last time out in D.C., the Five Stripes will be eager to bounce back. A spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs is in the bag, but next up to clinch is a home playoff game and a bye past the single-match elimination opening round.

While Josef Martinez’s record-breaking 28 goals this season is the headline of the offense, the team’s league-leading 56 goals have been created by more than just one player. Miguel Almirón, Julian Gressel and Tito Villalba have 11, 10 and 8 assists respectively, exemplifying the multi-pronged attack lining up in red, black and gold. Meanwhile, Ezequiel Barco’s return to action adds dynamic dribbling and speed to the left flank. Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz are the rocks in the center to counter-balance the attacking flair, while the return to training for Darlington Nagbe could mean a huge boost for the Five Stripes on both sides of the ball.

On the defensive end, the Atlanta United back line will be eager to rebound after last match against D.C. Prior to that, the team had conceded more than one goal just once since July 4th, and the team acknowledged after the match that they hold themselves to a higher defensive standard. What could help is the return of Franco Escobar, who was a lock-down defender at right back before suffering an injury last month. With the Argentine returning to training, it could mean the full complement in the back line alongside Michael Parkhurst, Leandro González Pirez and Chris McCann holding strong in front of Brad Guzan in the Atlanta United goal. With anything but three points a disappointment in the team’s quest for the Shield, they’ll need performances at every level to take home the victory in the Mile High City.

Colorado Rapids (6-15-6)

The Colorado Rapids are trying to salvage a disappointing season that has them sitting near the bottom of the Supporters’ Shield standings, but with a slim mathematic possibility of making it into the playoffs, they will be desperate to capitalize on their home field advantage against the Five Stripes on Saturday.

To do that, they’ll have to turn around a rough run of form, with the team conceding 10 goals and scoring none combined in their last three MLS matches. The key to that would be the combination of Edgar Castillo and Kellyn Acosta, the two focal points of the Rapids attack. Castillo leads the team in goals and assists this year from the fullback position, with the former LigaMX standout possessing the skill on the ball to beat his man and create a moment of magic. Meanwhile, Acosta will be trying to continue his revitalized season since his mid-season move from FC Dallas. With two goals and two assists in just six appearances for the Rapids so far, he’s a dangerous player in the middle of the field.

For Atlanta United to score they’ll have to get past the former and future of the U.S. National Team. U.S. soccer legend Tim Howard will be the last line of defense in goal, while promising Homegrown defender Kortne Ford could be lining up in front of him. While their defense sits near the bottom of the league this season, they were a tough nut to crack for the Five Stripes last year. It took more than an hour for Atlanta to find the net in a hard-fought 1-0 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and the Rapids will be hoping to find the same formula that proved tough to break down the last time around.

While the Rapids may not have much left to play for this year, the margins are slim for Atlanta United’s Supporters’ Shield chase and anything less than a win would be a speed bump in their chase for glory. If you’re not making the trip out west, make sure to tune in on Univision or the live stream on Twitter. Click here for everything you need to know about how to tune in.