At this point in the season, the table doesn’t lie. Toronto FC is the best team in the league and is as good at scoring goals as they are at stopping them. D.C. United is awful against any team not called Atlanta Untied and the NY Red Bulls look like a team that traded one of the best central midfielders in the league away.
In the West, Minnesota United looks like a team that has a bunch of NASL players on it and tried to do the two year job of building a roster in five months, Sporting KC looks like a team that found an identity as a defensive juggernaut while pulling back their focus on fluid play to great success at this point in the year.
As far as Atlanta United, sitting in 6th with a game in hand against three of the teams above it in the table sounds about right. The Five Stripes’ place in the table truly tells the story of the campaign and says something about the team. The Five Stripes are a side that plays well either against teams that are completely incompetent in defense, like Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake, or that try to beat United in a possession battle. The road draws against Toronto, Seattle, and Portland and wins against the Houston Dynamo, NYCFC, and the Columbus Crew illustrate this. The one away game that Atlanta struggled in against a possession oriented team was against NYCFC and they have two of the best central midfielders in the game.
Speaking of struggling, United has not fared very well against teams that stay compact and manage a goal against the team. This includes two losses to DC United and the match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Five Stripes showed that they can breakdown teams that park the bus against the Rapids and even managed to keep the lead once going ahead in the match. Perhaps that game will bode well for United against those types of opponents heading into the second half of the season.
It should be noted that the table almost too accurately reflects Atlanta’s performances. If there is one part of the table that is lacking, it is that United hasn’t had much break their way as far as the MLS Fairy dropping by and waiving its magic wand late in a match to give the team an undeserved draw or victory. That would be the same fairy that bequeathed a 10 man Sounders team a late win last Sunday night against Portland or that give Montreal a bogus red card when United was in town in April. Atlanta certainly can’t count on a keeper howler, beneficial refereeing error, or poor marking on a corner, but a little luck here or there couldn’t hurt as United pushes for a playoff spot down the stretch.