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We are approaching the greatest game in MLS history: Morning After the Morning After

I’m already clenched.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Morning After the Morning After. Rather than hastily writing about the events of this week’s Atlanta United match and other events around the league, we want to bring you the kind of well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis of both Atlanta United and the rest of the league that comes from sitting things out for a day or two. Now that we’re two four days removed from yet another win over Orlando City, I’m actually feeling pretty great thanks for asking.

Atlanta United Thought of the Week

“Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls are on THE collision course.”

You could convince yourself that NYCFC can still win the league by closing a four-point gap with New York Red Bulls and then a six-point gap with Atlanta United in the next eight games but you’re going to need a cork board, a lot of red string and help from Pepe Silvia. That leaves Red Bulls — two points back and an equal number of games played — as the only threat to a Supporters’ Shield for Atlanta United. Holding off Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams and their band of “wait, what, that guy is actually really good?” teammates (Hi, Daniel Royer!) won’t be easy. But if the Five Stripes can stave off the best Red Bulls team in history, they’ll also be taking aim at knocking off the best team in MLS history: 2017 Toronto.

Last year’s Toronto team finished with and MLS record 69 (neat) points at a 2.03 points per game average and finished with a +37 goal differential. Atlanta United are currently a 54 points on a 2.08 points per game pace with a +25 goal differential. Toronto’s lofty differential, and their 74 goals scored, aren’t unobtainable for Atlanta United but the Five Stripes would need to slightly outperform their current goal differential per game (plus .96) and their goals per game (2.12) over the next eight games. If things stayed at the status quo, Atlanta United finishes with a +32 goal differential and 72 goals scored. Both of those numbers would beat last year’s Five Stripes by two. Considering the competition they play, it’s not crazy to think they could improve on those numbers and pass Toronto, but it’s not a given.

For the points record, no improvements are needed. The current 2.08 points per game average would put the Five Stripes one point better than last year’s Toronto side. In all, they need 16 points from 24 to close out the season. That not only seems plausible but maybe even probable considering the final eight games look like this:

  • Away at D.C. United (1.17 points per game, 7th East)
  • Away at Colorado (.92 ppg., 11th West)
  • Away at San Jose (.68 ppg. (no, really, they’re that bad), 12th West)
  • Home against Real Salt Lake (1.52 ppg., 6th West)
  • Away at Red Bulls (2 ppg., 2nd East)
  • Home against New England (1.16 ppg., 8th East)
  • Home against Chicago (.89 ppg., 11th East)
  • Away at Toronto (1.08 ppg., 9th East)

If you’re keeping track at home, that’s two teams currently on track to make the playoffs and RSL’s inclusion really makes it more like one and a half. Ok, fine, I’ll make it two again because D.C.’s going to ride their cache of home games into the sixth spot in the East.

Normally, there would be some concern about five road games compared to three home games but don’t forget that Atlanta United has been just as good and may end up better on the road this year than they were at Mercedes-Benz. Atlanta’s 8-2-4 home record is good but a few road wins sprinkled in during the last five games might push their current 8-2-2 road record to a historically great mark. With 25 points, Atlanta trails 2012 San Jose and 2011 Seattle by seven points for the MLS away points record. Six points from Colorado and San Jose feels like a given. A point from the other three road contests is extremely doable.

As for the total MLS record, 12 points feels like a safe bet (Colorado, San Jose, Chicago, a win against one of NE, RSL or TFC). That would put Atlanta at 66 points, tied with that 2012 San Jose team for the third-best record in the non-shootout (lol) era. Even if Atlanta were to lose their three hardest remaining games with trips to now competent D.C., Red Bulls and healthy Toronto, wins in the other five games would tie the record. Those five games come against teams whose average position in their conference is 10th. But would tying the MLS points record be enough to get past New York?

Red Bulls’ remaining schedule looks like this:

  • Home against Houston (1.12 ppg., 8th West)
  • Away at Montreal (1.22 ppg. 6th East)
  • Away at D.C. (1.17 ppg., 7th East)
  • Home against Toronto (1.08 ppg., 9th East)
  • Home against ATLUTD (2.08 ppg., 1st East)
  • Away at San Jose (.68 ppg., 12th West)
  • Away at Philadelphia (1.44 ppg., 5th West)
  • Home against Orlando (.92 ppg., 11th East)

New York has the more difficult path to the end of the year, but it’s not by much. The average points per game of their opponents not named Atlanta United comes out to 1.19 ppg. That number would be good for ninth in the East. Atlanta United’s opponent average sans Red Bulls is 1.06 ppg., 10th in the East. Add in an extra home game for Red Bulls and a free space against Orlando and it’s close to a wash.

That Sept. 30 trip to Harrison, NJ may be a pseudo-regular season championship game. A win and season sweep over Atlanta from Red Bulls may mean it’s New York breaking Toronto’s record. They need 18 points from 24 to do it and if they make it past Atlanta United it’s difficult to see them not taking five of their other seven games.

Worst case scenario: Atlanta United needs a result against Toronto and some help from Orlando on the final day to pass Red Bulls. Orlando and its fans would in all honesty rather lose to keep Atlanta United from a trophy than win their second game since May 13.

Either way, the mythology around Sept. 30 is going to grow in the coming weeks. Two of the best teams in MLS history will meet with the Supporters’ Shield and the potential to own the league’s greatest ever record will be on the line.

When the folks at the league office mapped out the schedule, they assumed the final week’s Atlanta-Toronto matchup would carry plenty of weight. It still might, but the match’s GAME OF THE YEAR potential dissipated in the first few months of the season. They lucked out. Instead, the most important regular season game in MLS history may be coming four weeks earlier.

Atlanta United Tweet of the Week

(credit Rob Usry)

Atlanta United Quote of the Week

Atlanta United Questions of the Week

If ATLUTD wins MLS Cup in the Benz, followed by the Falcons winning the Super Bowl in the Benz a few months later, will the curse have finally been lifted? Or do we have to figure out a way to have the World Series and NBA finals in there, too? - Josh Bailey

If we get one championship the curse is over, right? 22 years after selling our souls for the Olympics, the curse will have run out of steam if any of the major Atlanta teams does the thing. A new curse may start immediately after when Chris McCann sacrifices a chicken in the locker room (Irish whisper: “It’s just a prank, bro.”) but as soon as we’ve won a championship, that particular curse is over.

Given injuries, what’s going to be best approach to contain DC’s front four? - ATLGreg1

Keep them from scoring like the other time we kept them from scoring? We could roll Sal Zizzo out there in his wheelchair and still win 3-2.

D.C. is improved, but they haven’t suddenly become an offensive juggernaut. Are they going to score five goals now that I’ve said that? No. Don’t be stupid. That’s not how any of this works.

What’s better? College football as a whole, or the comments section of a DirtySouthSoccer article? - Tiotal Football

Sure the NCAA is terrible in every way but at least there are some fun parts to college football. I mean look at the round man

Have you seen the DSS comments? Am I saying that what’s been compared to modern-day slavery is better than the DSS comment section? Well, I’d first like to sa— **Gets Tackled by Like Five Vox Media Lawyers**

MLS Tweet of the Week

Alpharetta Dad Thought of the Week - Sponsored by Bad Boy Mowers

“I once scored the winning basket in my rec league game. I didn’t stare the man I had made the shot over down. I picked up the ball, walked over, handed it to him and shook his hand.

*tearing up*

That......that’s America. And that’s something Joseph Martino will never understand. - Alpharetta Dad

Heeeeeeee’s Tryin’!