Atlanta United’s grueling road trip across the north got off to a frustrating and unsurprising start (unless you happened to predict a win in your preview for some unknown reason... couldn’t be me). And yet, things only get tougher from here. The Five Stripes head to New Jersey next, where it has a glowing record of 0W-2T-3L, 0 goals scored, and 4 conceded. On the bright side, there’s only one way to go and that’s upwards.
If there was a time to play the Red Bulls, now would be it. Not only has New York played three games in the last week and a half, but it suffered a COVID outbreak in its squad over the weekend and just returned from a cross-country trip to Los Angeles. New York pushed LAFC all the way but eventually the fatigue proved too much to overcome thanks to a late outburst from the hosts. The Red Bulls still sit a healthy 4th place on 26 points, just three short of first place Philadelphia. It’s also one of the few teams to find itself where it deserves to be in the standings according to the numbers - New York has both the 4th best attack and defense in the East and the 4th best expected goal differential. Austrian manager Gerard Struber has crafted New York into a classic Redbull side in his second season in charge. It currently ranks 25th in average possession per game, 27th in completed passes, last in passing accuracy, 1st in tackles and pressures, and 3rd in shots.
The recent additions of ex-Miami wingback Lewis Morgan (7g, 1a) and Brazilian attacker Luquinhas (5g, 2a) have gone a long way towards unlocking New York in the final third, especially with the hot-and-cold form of striker Patryk Klimala, who still has a respectable 4 goals and 3 assists, to contend with. Luquinhas, however, is one of the players to test positive for COVID over the weekend, along with star center back Aaron Long.
Thanks to Atlanta’s loss to Toronto and results across the conference, the good guys now sit 10th and four points out of the playoffs. Its main competition for the final postseason spots all either don’t play this midweek (Miami and New England) or have tough tests ahead (Cincinnati plays NYCFC), so though Atlanta might not gain any ground, it won’t lose much either and any points gained Thursday would be a bonus.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: New York Red Bulls 3-2 Atlanta United
Despite the Red Bulls’ early season form of home losses and away victories, New York has slowly returned to the mean and won its last four games at Red Bull Arena in all competitions. That run will continue tomorrow as Atlanta’s porous defense rears its head once again in a topsy-turvy affair.