After a week to regret New York City’s late equalizer that snatched a tie from the jaws of victory, Atlanta United is back in action with a midweek tilt against Inter Miami. The Five Stripes barely managed to keep ahold of its playoff spot thanks to Toronto FC’s draw with CF Montreal (special thanks to Jozy Altidore) but another stumble could prove fatal. Inter Miami, though not technically eliminated from playoff contention yet, will be hoping to play the role of spoiler when it visits the Benz Wednesday evening.
Miami’s season has been on a steady downhill trend since a late summer winning streak was halted back in September. After going six unbeaten in August, Phil Neville’s side has just two wins in its last eight. Both have come in the past week, however, as Miami swept Eastern Conference bottom dwellers Toronto and Cincinnati aside by an aggregate score of 8-1. Atlanta, you would hope, will put up more of a fight than those two. Gonzalo Higuain (11 goals, 7 assists) is the Florida side’s main threat but if the last meeting between these two teams is anything to go by, Miles Robinson should have the Argentine under lock and key. Lewis Morgan (2g, 1a), Rodolfo Pizarro (3g, 3a), and Robbie Robinson (4g) are Miami’s other attacking pieces and can cause problems on their day. Unfortunately for Miami, that day is a rare occurrence indeed. Miami is tied for last in the East’s goalscoring charts, with just 33 tallies from 31 games. Its defense is only marginally better, with the 5th worst record in the conference.
Wednesday’s match kickstarts a run of four games in a week and a half for Atlanta. The Five Stripes have home tilts against Miami and Toronto before visiting surprise playoff contender New York Red Bulls and Wooden Spoon winner FC Cincinnati. Getting three points tomorrow will be vital for both morale and playoff positioning. Atlanta is currently level on 43 points with both the Red Bulls (6th) and Montreal (8th), but a mere two ahead of 9th-placed DC United. Gonzalo Pineda’s side is also only four short of Orlando in the final home playoff game. The Eastern Conference is going the be thrown through a blender over the coming weeks but Atlanta should find a way to land on the right side of the red line one way or the other. Dropping points to Miami, however, would be a good recipe to miss the postseason for the second year in a row.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-0 Inter Miami
Josef Martinez’s return to the XI will propel Atlanta to a comprehensive win over Miami. Goals from the Venezuelan, Matheus Rossetto, and Luiz Araujo will seal the deal for the Five Stripes and take it one step further to a playoff berth.