Atlanta United’s red-hot postseason form and three-goal advantage has them in pole position to host the MLS Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year. But they still have to head to a hostile Red Bull Arena to defend their lead in the hope of keeping their dreams of silverware alive.
Ahead of the match, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
“Win the Fight”
Captain Michael Parkhurst said before the team’s first postseason match against NYCFC that no matter what else happened on the field, they had to “win the fight.” The team has responded with three gutsy, physical performances that have shown a different side to the free-flowing attacking team that did so well in the regular season. This is the biggest test yet: an opponent they’ve only beaten once in a ground that hasn’t been kind to them in the past. And they’ll have to win the fight against one of the most physical teams in the league. The Five Stripes showed they could do just that this weekend, but will have to prove it one more time.
Battle of the Brads
If anyone can start a comeback for this Red Bulls team, it’s one of the best strikers in the history of MLS in Bradley Wright-Phillips. #99 was lethal in the teams’ first matchup of the regular season this year, and showed his threat in the disallowed goal this past weekend. But Brad Guzan has come out on top of this battle before as well, with his close-range block on BWP named MLS Save of the Year in a clean sheet performance at Red Bull Arena last year. Guzan has only let in one goal in three matches in postseason this year, so if he –– and his defense –– can keep Wright-Phillips under control, it will go a long way toward finishing this matchup.
Get On the Board
Atlanta United has shown this postseason that they’re not hesitant to play a little more direct to keep things locked up in the back. But don’t expect the Five Stripes to fully bunker down and try to hold onto their lead. The Five Stripes counter-attack is as effective as any in the league, and each of them will look to take advantage of whatever opportunity falls their way. The Red Bulls will be pushing from the start, and Atlanta may have to weather early pressure. But if they can get on the board with a goal, the Red Bulls would have to score five of their own to catch back up –– all but punching Atlanta’s ticket to MLS Cup.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, with the match set to be broadcast on FS1. Click here for a full rundown of how to, watch, listen, or follow along with the game.