Tools to the Match: How ATL UTD can win Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal

The regular season is in the past. The postseason has begun and that means a clean slate for everyone, including Atlanta United (21-7-6) and their opponent on Sunday, New York City FC (16-10-8). Every match is vital and every moment can turn a postseason run on its head –– and with one win a piece and two draws between them in the two teams’ history, the series has been even at every turn, so both teams will be confident in getting a result.

Ahead of the vital postseason match, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.

Space at a Premium

Playing at Yankee Stadium provides a unique home-field advantage for NYCFC. With the smallest field in Major League Soccer, it can be hard to find space to work, especially for a team as fluid on the counter as Atlanta United. The Five Stripes won’t get room to run like they enjoy, and will have to find a way to work well in tight spaces to break through a packed-in defense and midfield. That could mean taking a few shots from distance to draw out defenders, or go aerial to find the ruthless head of Josef Martinez. Atlanta United’s defense can use that to their own advantage by staying compact in the back. But if the space opens up, Atlanta United will need to pounce quickly –– there won’t be many chances to get the ball into space, so they need to be efficient when they do.

Win the Midfield

NYCFC is one of the most balanced teams in the league, with strong players from front to back. But they may be best in midfield, and that’s thanks in no small part to the return of Yangel Herrera. One of the best young players in the league, the Venezuelan center midfielder’s return has coincided with two 3-1 wins to give the team a sense of momentum heading into the postseason. He joins Alex Ring to form one of the most solid midfield pairings in the league at the base of the midfield, while Maxi Moralez will be darting into the channels looking to create from the #10 position. Make no mistake: Atlanta United’s midfield can go up against anyone. But the center of the park is where this match will be won.

Take Chances

Atlanta United fans will need no reminder about the do-or-die nature of the postseason. Last season, they created chance after chance but couldn’t get the ball past Zack Steffen –– and it cost them a run at the title. Postseason soccer is different than the regular season; many teams sit back a little further to make sure they aren’t sunk by a costly mistake. That means chances come at a premium, and teams have to take advantage when they do. If Atlanta United can stay solid defensively and turn just one chance into a vital away goal, it will be a major step toward clinching a spot in the next round of the postseason.

Follow the Match:

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, with the match set to be broadcast on FS1.  You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or on the radio: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.