It's hard to believe that we have reached the final month of the MLS regular season. With all the goals, drama and excitement ATL UTD has brought to the pitch this year, just three matches remain for the Five Stripes – and they are perhaps the most critical yet. Despite losing to the second-place Red Bulls last weekend, Atlanta United is still in full control of their own destiny at the top of the table. From the Shield, to international qualification to more records, here's what's still up for grabs for ATL UTD:
The Supporters’ Shield
With three matches left and a point clear of their closest competitor, completely in the hands of Atlanta United is the ultimate achievement of the MLS regular season: the Supporters' Shield. Since Eastern Conference foes New York Red Bulls are the team nipping at their heels, it also means they'll need to win the Shield in order to win the regular season conference title as well. So there's a lot at stake and while they can't officially clinch the award this Saturday, a win combined with some other results could put them in a position to capture the Shield at home on the 21st against the Chicago Fire. However, even if they are unable to clinch before Decision Day – Oct. 28th, the final day of the regular season – it would be poetic if Atlanta were to beat the reigning Shield Champions in their house to claim the title.
Concacaf Champions League
There’s two spots open for next year’s Concacaf Champions League, the international competition between the top clubs in North America. One spot will be awarded to the 2018 MLS Cup winner, and the other goes to the team with the best aggregate record over the past two seasons. And while it's the ultimate goal to win the Cup, Atlanta United is on the verge of securing their spot spot the regular season ends.
The New York Red Bulls are also chasing the aggregate record spot, but even with the result last Sunday, it is still possible for the Five Stripes to clinch this upcoming weekend with a win and some help. A win against the New England Revolution Saturday AND a loss/draw from New York Red Bulls against the San Jose Earthquakes later that night would be enough to clinch a Concacaf spot for 2019. If they don't get the desired result from New York, three points would still be crucial to qualification and would all but shore up one of the club’s primary goals for this year’s regular season.
Winning the Supporters’ Shield is more than just a regular season achievement, it has implications in the playoffs as well. Clinching the #1 overall seed in the playoffs would guarantee home-field advantage throughout the postseason – meaning hosting the second leg of the conference semifinal and final rounds as well as a MLS Cup Final in Mercedes-Benz Stadium if they are to reach that stage. Currently at one point ahead and even on matches played with their closest competitor in New York Red Bulls, winning their final three matches would secure the Shield and the #1 overall seed, regardless of other results.
Regular Season Points Record
Atlanta United currently sit at 63 points on the season so far, with three matches left to play. The all-time regular season record for points in a season was set last season by Toronto FC, who ended the season with 69, so two wins combined with a win/draw (min. 7 pts.) is what the Five Stripes need in its final three matches to set a new benchmark for MLS regular season success.
While team success comes first, there are a few individual achievements to keep an eye out for this weekend. Another goal for Josef Martinez would be his 50th in MLS in just 52 games. Meanwhile, Miguel Almirón and Julian Gressel each sit just two assists off the league lead, so a strong performance this weekend could propel them to the top.
With so much on the line, this is a month you don’t want to miss – starting this Saturday against the New England Revolution. Tickets for that match are still available here, but if you can't make it, make sure to tune in on Univision at 3:30 p.m. ET.