Atlanta’s last-gasp 1-0 win over Montreal in front of a boisterous crowd of 40,116 snapped a four-game winless run and added another building block to Gabriel Heinze’s red and black striped tower. The Five Stripes will now look to close out the final two games of May on a bright note before the international break and stay within touching distance of the top of the East. But the next two opponents on the menu are far from straightforward for Heinze’s side. The Seattle Sounders and Nashville SC, two of the three remaining unbeaten teams in MLS, are heading Atlanta’s way shortly. And while the next one-hundred eighty minutes will be arduous, the Five Stripes have the chance to show just what they’re capable of against some of the league's best.
Up first are the Sounders. Seattle not only is unbeaten but has only one draw and five wins through six games. Its haul of sixteen points (2.6 per game) has Seattle four points clear of the LA Galaxy, its next closest challenger in the Western Conference. When those teams met back on May 2nd, Seattle cruised to a 3-0 win. Multi-goal victories have been a feature through the first two months of the season in the Puget Sound and it’s no surprise that Seattle has both the best attack (13 goals scored) and defense (2 goals conceded). That’s all the more impressive considering that Nico Lodeiro has been sidelined for all but 24 minutes so far, while Jordan Morris suffered a torn ACL on loan at Swansea. Furthermore, the Sounders’ offseason was a subdued one in the transfer market. Seattle lost Joevin Jones and Kelvin Leerdam and could bring in only Fredy Monteiro and Kelyn Rowe. That’s lead Brian Schmetzer to move to a 3-5-2 from his usual 4-2-3-1 to compensate for the total lack of wingers, but so far results have only improved.
The strike partnership of Raul Ruidiaz and Will Bruin has caused opposing backlines countless headaches, with the latter providing a physical presence to occupy defenders while Ruidiaz’s lethal finishing has led to goal after goal. The Peruvian is second in the MLS Golden Boot rankings with five. Wingbacks Alex Roldan (2 assists) and Brad Smith (3g, 1a) have also flourished in the final third with the greater freedom allotted by the back-three. Atlanta’s backline will be hard-pressed to keep its record of conceding less than a goal a game through the weekend, but the matchup between its defensive corps and Seattle’s flank-to-flank attack promises to entertain. As for the Five Stripes’ final third threat, a Josef Martinez-shaped moment of magic might be all Atlanta can hope for. Even that could be a hard ask for the Venezuelan, who will be up against the very physical back-three of Yeimar, Arreaga, and Nouhou.
Predicted Starting XIs
Facing a 3-5-2 for the second week in a row, Atlanta’s starting eleven is likely to remain the same. The only exception from the win over Montreal could be Anton Walkes over Alan Franco, who exited with injury last week.
Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1-1 Atlanta United
While Seattle look the heavy favorites, taking a result back home from the northwest isn’t out of the question. Atlanta’s defense has proven up to the task every time so far, and while Seattle is its biggest test of the still-young season, keeping the Sounders to a sole goal is within the realm of possibility. And with a little luck in the final third, the Five Stripes can keep its winning record alive another week.