Atlanta United (6-3-2) are hoping to keep blazing their trail through the conference standings as they search for their sixth consecutive victory, but to do so they’ll have to travel to Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls (4-5-2) who will be seeking revenge after getting knocked out by the Five Stripes in the Eastern Conference Final last season. It’s one of the hottest teams in the league vs on of the grittiest, it’s one you won’t want to miss.
Ahead of the intraconference clash, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Head Coach Frank de Boer said it best following their win over Orlando last week, “The only time we give chances away we are over confident… We could be very disappointed because they could have scored very easily two goals. We have to avoid that." Atlanta was fortunate to not concede against the Lions, but they’ve been keen on limiting their own mistakes over the last month and it’s a big reason why the Five Stripes just set an MLS record with five consecutive clean sheet victories. However, on Sunday that tidiness in the back will be even more crucial as they face a New York Red Bulls side notorious for their high pressure and ability to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. There’s no question Atlanta will continue their build-from-the-back philosophy that has them in their best form yet, but decision-making and sharpness in possession – particularly in their defensive half of the field – will need to be flawless if they want to escape New York with another clean sheet.
Find Darlington Nagbe
Avoiding mistakes against the Red Bulls will go a long way in taking points from New York, but in terms of combatting that high-pressure approach and delivering on the other end of the field, Atlanta will need an outlet. And their answer could very likely be the Five Stripes’ renaissance man in Darlington Nagbe. “I think there is maybe no better player in MLS who is comfortable when he gets the ball with his man on his back in the midfield,” De Boer said about the U.S. international. And as his coach already emphasized, Nagbe is as quick with his movement and tidy with his touch than anyone in the league, and as the Red Bulls press in numbers, there’s no one better suited to combat that congestion than #6 in stripes. Nagbe is on the field to connect the game, so if Atlanta can find his feet early and often, they’ll be able to break down the Red Bull’s gameplan and spur the Atlanta attack.
Run with Royer
Red Bulls haven’t started quite how they have in recent years, sitting below the playoff line 11 games in and with their leading goal scorer the last five seasons in Bradley Wright-Phillips missing the last four matches due to injury. But as they’ve proven over the years, they’re one of the most well-coached, disciplined and dangerous sides no matter their form. With #99 still listed as questionable, their most potent threat could be his partner up front who’s bagged a combined 27 goals (including postseason) over the course of 2017-2018 in Austrian forward Daniel Royer. Leading his side with 2 goals and 3 assists this year, Royer’s pace, technical ability, and lethal finish make him a defense’s worst nightmare. If Atlanta can track his movements and limit his opportunities on the ball in the final third, they’ll be one step closer to extending their win streak.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 5:00 p.m. ET from Red Bull Arena. You can watch the match on FS1, stream it on Fox Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow along from home, click here.