As October cedes the stage to November and MLS enters the final week of the regular season, Atlanta United’s chances to make the dash up the table we all expected is fading all too quickly. The Five Stripes did well to dig itself out of a Gabriel Heinze-inspired hole in late summer but it still feels like they could have done so much more after the additions of Luiz Araujo and Gonzalo Pineda. Atlanta’s unhappy habit of conceding late once again reared its head in an infuriating draw against Toronto. The dropped points from last weekend and New York City would have Atlanta comfortably 4th and all but certain to host a home playoff game at the Benz. Instead, it goes into a two-game road trip needing results if it's to make the postseason whatsoever. Home-field advantage remains a slight possibility but first Atlanta has to do what it's never done before; win at Red Bull Arena.
Like Atlanta, the Red Bulls put a disastrous first half of the season behind them and turned on all cylinders once Autumn began. It has one loss in its last ten, going 7W-2T-1L over that span, which was preceded by a horrid 1W-4T-6L stretch. New York is still barely holding onto the final playoff spot and its 46-point haul is a mere three over 10th-placed CF Montreal. Gerhard Struber’s first full season at the club has unsurprisingly featured a heavy emphasis on pressure and one-v-one duels. New York leads the league in pressures and is third in tackles but has the fewest completed passes across MLS. The on-pitch results have varied; New York has conceded the least (32 goals in 32 games) in the Eastern Conference but struggled to find the back of the net and has the 4th-fewest goals to its name. It scored more than one goal a game just twice over its recent eleven-game hot streak. Even so, the Red Bulls do have the weapons to cause havoc in the final third. Ex-Celtic striker Patryk Klimala (8g, 6a) and the Brazilian Fabio (6g, 6a) form one of the more fearsome strike partnerships in the league and will put Atlanta’s back three to a stern test. Youngsters Cristian Casseres (6g, 2a) and Caden Clark (4g, 3a) can be x-factors on their day as well.
Atlanta has crossed paths with New York once before this season in a dreary and turrid 0-0 draw back in June. It’s never won against the Red Bulls in the regular season despite nine attempts and you’d have to go back to July of 2019 to find the last goal Atlanta scored versus New York. Not great!
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: New York Red Bulls 1-1 Atlanta United
The Five Stripes will do enough to escape New Jersey with a point thanks to a goal from Josef Martinez, but Atlanta-loanee Andrew Gutman will cause his parent club problems with a scrappy equalizer.