Atlanta United’s 2022 season is ninety minutes from one final conclusion. There will be no unlikely rescue, nor a miracle playoff run. The Five Stripes couldn’t procure even a first round postseason appearance to offer some form of
hope a false sense of security and short-lived optimism. Instead, Atlanta’s gaping weaknesses are there for all to see. By the time kickoff against New York City rolls around, two hundred and thirty-three days will have passed since that 3-1 opening day win over Sporting KC. Since then the Five Stripes have proven to be inferior compared to its lofty aspirations in just about every facet of play and now face another off season of big questions. Sunday’s visit from NYCFC could be the last time we see a number of players at the Benz, none more important than Josef Martinez. If nothing else, Decision Day will be worth tuning in to to see one last look at the Venezuelan in Atlanta.
New York City doesn’t have much left to play for either, and is certain to end the day either third or fourth. The Citizens booked a home playoff game with last week’s win over Orlando and currently sits 3rd on 52 points - two ahead of the fourth placed Red Bulls who would have to blow out Charlotte by 8 goals to leapfrog NYCFC as long as the latter avoids defeat. Despite such a comfortable table position, things have been far from rosy in the Bronx. The midseason departures of head coach Ronny Deila (Standard Liege in Belgium) and Taty Castellanos (Girona in La Liga) led to an immediate and precipitous collapse under interim manager Mark Cushing, who has overseen an 8W-9L-5D record with a goal differential of -1.
The atmosphere has lightened of late at Yankee Stadium, however, and New York’s 2-0 win over Atlas in the Campeones Cup kickstarted a run of three straight victories. City’s focus is now on keeping its momentum alive into the playoffs and hoping its very talented squad will rediscover the mojo that took them all the way to MLS Cup and beyond one year ago. Brazilian youngsters Talles Magno (7g, 7a) and Gabriel Pereira (7g, 2a) look up to the task, an form quite the attack along with Santiago Rodriguez (4g, 10a) and an aging but still magical Maxi Moralez (2g, 6a).
Predicted Starting XIs
McBlunder’s Prediction: Atlanta United 2-2 NYCFC
Josef Martinez will bag a goal in possibly his last ever game at the Benz in the Five Stripes, but it won’t be enough to give Atlanta three points in its season closer as New York comes back to snag a draw.