One look at the MLS standings tells you immediately that Atlanta United is in great position at the two-thirds-point of the season in an effort to take home MLS’s Supporters Shield (a trophy given to the top team in MLS at the end of the regular season). The Five Stripes have the highest point total in the league, and only trail New York Red Bulls in points-per-game this season.
But team captain Michael Parkhurst said before training Thursday that there’s a different mentality to the team this season as it prepares for the final stretch run of the regular season ahead of next week’s MLS All-Star Game.
“I think this year we’re just more prepared for the second half of the season,” said Parkhurst. “We understand what this league takes—what it takes to win at home and on the road, the different types of performances needed, the length of the season. We understand that we aren’t going to be at our best in every game, so what can we do to get a victory?”
Parkhurst’s comment speak accurately to Atlanta United’s consistency this season compared to its inaugural campaign. Compared to this point in the season at this date, Atlanta has earned a whopping 11 more points versus only two more games played. That averages to a significant 0.35 points per game more this season. Atlanta has nearly half the amount of losses this season vs. late July 2017 (four currently vs. seven last year).
“We haven’t lost back-to-back games this year,” Parkhurst noted. “We haven’t had that dip in form over multiple games. That’s been a positive and I think that’s why we’re at the top of the standings. Last year we had a lot of positive press and big publicity, but we were still 4th, 5th, 6th in the standings. We were the most popular ‘outside’ playoff team in the league.”
The dynamic is, of course, different for Atlanta United this year. Last year, the team had only played eight home games—all at Bobby Dodd Stadium—compared to 12 this year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But despite that disparity, Atlanta United’s road form this year has been markedly improved, going from 4-5-3 in late July 2017 to it current mark of 6-2-2 so far this season on the road. That confidence stemming from that form seems to be radiating through the team.
“This year, we’re No. 1 in the league, and that’s a different approach,” said Parkhurst. “We’re on top and everyone’s gunning for us and we know that. We expect that game-in, game-out.”