It has been 122 days since Atlanta United last competed on the pitch. As the pandemic unfolded, the team found new ways to stay sharp, relying on Zoom calls, individual training and finally group training. At long last, the 5-Stripes are back and ready to face the New York Red Bulls.
Ahead of this rivalry matchup, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Managing Match Fitness
The season disruption caused by Covid-19 resulted in a break longer than a typical offseason. As a result, fitness has been a key factor for players around the league. How well players are able to withstand the Orlando heat and compete for 90 minutes will be key in Atlanta’s first match and for the duration of the tournament. To address fitness and schedule compression concerns, FIFA rules have changed to allow teams up to five substitutions per match, opening up new options for coaches to strategically manage their lineups.
Filling in for Josef Martinez
With Atlanta’s striker Josef Martinez injured, the 5-Stripes have multiple options to help chip in with goal scoring. One of those weapons is Emerson Hyndman, who was signed to the club for the 2020 season after a successful season on loan with Atlanta in 2019. Hyndman and Ezequiel Barco both scored goals in the first two MLS matches of the season and are expected to continue producing for the 5-Stripes. Pity Martínez has settled up top after joining the team in 2019, already racking up two goals for the 5-Stripes in just four matches this year. Two new additions to the roster are Matheus Rossetto and Manuel Castro, who finally will be able to join the roster for MLS matches after visa issues at the start of the season. Striker Adam Jahn also joined the 5-Stripes from Phoenix Rising this season after being top five in goals scored in the USL Championship’s 2019 Season.
Rivalry or Not
Many 17s would agree that the Red Bulls are among the biggest competitive rivals for the 5-Stripes. Both teams have had some tough losses and sweet victories in key matches, often leading to heightened emotions when they meet on the pitch. Atlanta United has never defeated the New York Red Bulls during the regular season, which they will be looking to change when they step on the pitch Saturday.
Every moment on the pitch will be crucial for the 5-Stripes to dominate. With the intensity, New York brings to the table every time they face one another, one mistake could cost Atlanta. After three months away from matchday, finding match form among the team will be key for them both.
Tune in to Atlanta United’s first Group Stage Match Saturday, July 11th at 8 PM on Fox.