And just like that, we’re back to reality. A win over DC United and draws at Cincinnati and Columbus had changed the mood ever so slightly around Atlanta United, but Wednesday’s trip to Philadelphia brought the Five Stripes skidding back down to earth. The Union ran out 4-1 winners, and though that’s three goals better than its previous pair of 6-0 wins, it only further exposed Atlanta’s state of dysfunction. And the week might still get worse. Atlanta travels across the country to face a surging Portland Timbers on Sunday.
The Timbers were mired in the lower half of the Western Conference for much of the first half of the season, only for a summer turnaround to send it into playoff contention until August and a run of 3 draws and 2 defeats rolled around. Things came to a boil in last week’s must-win Cascadia Cup clash against Seattle, but Giovanni Savarese’s men rose to the occasion with a 2-1 win. Portland followed that up with an even more impressive road victory over Austin by the same scoreline on Wednesday. Despite such statement results, the Timbers’ work is far from over and it’s currently in 7th on 39 points with the LA Galaxy lurking closely behind on 38 points with a game in hand.
Though not quite at the level of Philadelphia’s lethal attacking trio, Portland’s frontline is still good enough for third in the West with 47 goals. Striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda leads the scoring charts with 9 goals with Sebastian Blanco (7 goals, 7 assists) pulling the strings in midfield and Yimmi Chara (4g, 3a), Dairon Asprilla (6g, 2a), and Santiago Moreno (5g, 5a) filling out the supporting cast in Savarese’s ever-constant counterattacking 4-2-3-1 shape. On the flip side, Portland is a no defensive fortress, currently without a clean sheet in 9 games and with the 5th-most goals against in the West.
Atlanta’s 4-1 shellacking by Philadelphia was a stark reminder of just how far behind the elite teams in MLS it is even with an almost full-strength starting eleven on the pitch. But thanks to the pecularites of MLS, the Five Stripes still find itself just three points short of the playoff line. A number of the teams directly in front Atlanta have stalled of late, and just one win would see Gonzalo Pineda’s side pull level with 7th placed Inter Miami.
Predicted Starting XIs
McBlunder’s Prediction: Portland Timbers 2-0 Atlanta United
Atlanta’s week full of national tv games are increasing in channel status everytime, while results steeply head the opposite way. With this one on big FOX, we’ll see Portland ease to a straightforward victory against Atlanta’s heavy legs, powered by goals from Asprilla and Blanco.