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Atlanta United’s State of Play: The Final Four

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The Five Stripes have four remaining games to punch their ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs

MLS: New York City FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

After a long and grueling 30 games so far this season that has seen Atlanta United endure drama and turbulence to the highest degree, here we sit ahead of tonight’s match against Inter Miami that starts a four-game run to hopefully reach the MLS Cup Playoffs after missing out for the first time last year. Here’s the state of play:

The Table

Atlanta United sits in a precarious position as things stand, with the team currently occupying the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as things stand after picking up a point in last week’s 1-1 draw to NYCFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Had the team not conceded a free kick goal in the dying moments that saw two points slip away, they’d be in a much more comfortable position as things stand this morning.

The Schedule

The reason there isn’t more freakout about the team’s precarious position in the table (at this point, at least) is due to what you see right here — the easiest schedule any team has left. The surging Red Bulls, who have astonishingly surpassed Atlanta in the table for now, is the only playoff team left on the schedule. The other three are all “on the beach,” as the saying goes, and a motivated Atlanta side should have no excuses not to pick up maximum points. That starts tonight against Miami, and head coach Gonzalo Pineda seems confident the team will rebound off the NYCFC disappointment based on reports from training this week.

Health

The team’s health situation is improving in some areas on the back end — Franco Ibarra continues to gain more minutes and fitness is one bright spot — but there are some additional worries with injuries to the starting XI. Santiago Sosa was forced out of the NYCFC game with an injury Pineda did not disclose, but told reporters after the match that Sosa had requested the sub, which points to at least some significance in its severity. He is a gameday decision for the team’s match against Miami tonight.

Also a gameday decision is Josef Martinez, who the club is clearly treating with kid gloves as he attempts to recover from a hamstring strain after dealing with issues to his surgically repaired knee during the latter parts of the season. He was only available to come off the bench last week vs. NYCFC and played for half an hour. It’s possible the club may opt to keep him in that position given that the team’s attack will be boosted by the return of Ezequiel Barco from his red card suspension.

Tactics

With Barco out of the lineup last week, Pineda was able to naturally slide Matheus Rossetto into midfield where the Brazilian continued the good run of form he’s shown since Atlanta’s new manager assumed the role. Regardless of Josef and Sosa’s ability to play, with Barco back in the fold, Pineda’s decision on the Starting XI tonight will be edifying for us observers in how he chooses to construct his lineup and team shape. I will continue to say I think the team plays at its best when Rossetto is in the lineup next to a holding midfielder. But with that construction, it’s impossible to then also shoehorn in all the attacking players you want out there while keeping the team’s tried and trusted back 3.