With a postseason spot already clinched, it’s all eyes on home-field advantage for Atlanta United (16-11-3) as they host the San Jose Earthquakes (13-12-5) for the first time ever at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Five Stripes are confident against whoever they face on their home pitch, but will have to maintain their focus as they look to keep the pressure on the top of the Eastern Conference against a ‘Quakes team with postseason aspirations of their own.
Ahead of the major interconference matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Watch the Wings
U.S. international Chris Wondolowski will be looking to extend his lead at the top of the all-time MLS goalscoring charts, and will be a constant threat in the box. But San Jose’s goalscoring talisman thrives on service, and it often comes from the wide areas. On one side, Valeri Qazaishvili, or Vako, has a tight, quick touch, and will constantly be looking to take on his man on the dribble. On the other side, Cristian Espinoza has the speed, touch and eye for the final ball that can get behind and punish any defense in the league. Atlanta United will have to be sure to not get caught too far up the field and leave themselves exposed to one-on-one situations in space in the wide areas. If they can keep the wide men in front of them, it will stop their attacking momentum and cut off the service to the danger-man, Wondolowski, in the box.
Home Sweet Home
Atlanta United has one of the best home records in the league, with the infamous 17s in the stands making Mercedes-Benz Stadium an intimidating prospect for any club. Meanwhile, San Jose’s road form has dipped, with their five road losses since the beginning of August giving them the worst record in the league away from home in that time. The Five Stripes have scored four goals in each meeting against San Jose so far in their history. If they can get on the board early, it will not only put the ‘Quakes on the back foot, it will kick-start the roar from the stands that makes Atlanta such a difficult place for opposing teams to come.
The Chase for History
It’s impossible to discuss Atlanta United’s form without mentioning the unprecedented scoring of their striker, Josef Martinez, who may have his own page in the MLS record books by now. Martinez has scored in 15 consecutive matches, six more than anyone else in the history of the league, and his 21 goals in that time are the most of anyone in MLS. But there’s more history to chase on the other side, with Brad Guzan’s career-best 14 clean sheets just two behind the all-time MLS single season record set by Tony Meola in 2000. After a two-match dip in defensive form, the Five Stripes were back to their defensive best on Wednesday in Cincinnati. If they can get another clean sheet, it would not only put Guzan one step closer to individual history, it would be a huge step toward securing a big win in their push for home-field advantage in the postseason.
With just four regular-season matches remaining, every 90 minutes is crucial for the Five Stripes as they push toward the postseason to defend their MLS Cup championship. Click here to be there to root them on from the stands, or if you can’t make it, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.