Atlanta United has survived the worst of its international break absences relatively unscathed, but unfortunately, that’s the only good news headed the Five Stripes' way. Gonzalo Pineda will need to have everyone on the roster at his disposal (minus Gold Cup-bound Miles Robinson and Derrick Etienne) and then some with a grueling four-game stretch on the way. A stretch of three away games and a home game against one of the best teams in the conference is kicked off by a visit to the New York Red Bulls this Saturday.
The Red Bulls sacked Gerhard Struber in May with New York boasting some of the best expected goal differential in the league alongside some of the fewest point totals. While there has been some regression to the mean under debut interim manager Trey Lesesne, New York remains 13th with the 2nd-highest expected goal differential. New York has a measly 20 points and 3 wins in Lesesne’s 7 matches in charge, although that’s good enough for just 3 points out of the playoffs. The Red Bulls’ gravest problems have come in attack, where it’s managed just 13 goals scored - the fewest in the East and also over 10 goals short of its expected goals tally. That’s despite three striker signings over the offseason, which were meant to fix New York’s finishing problem but have obviously failed so far. Elias Manoel (1g, 1a), Cory Burke (2g), and Dante Vanzeir (2 goals but also a lengthy suspension for using a racial slur) have rotated in and out of the starting spot with little effect. In fact, fullback John Tolkin (4 assists) has been New York’s most consistent appearance on the boxscore, but he’s away with the USMNT for the Gold Cup. Tolkin is also a big loss for New York’s backline (their biggest strength with the 3rd best numbers in the East), which conceded 2 at home to Charlotte without him midweek. If there was ever a good time to face the Red Bulls, this might be it.
Atlanta comes into this after a midweek moral victory thanks to a 2-2 draw against NYCFC decided by a late, late Nicolas Firmino equalizer. His debut goal extended the Five Stripes’ unbeaten run to 7, but only 2 of those have been victories. That’s shown in the standings, as Pineda’s side continues eeking along in 5th on 29 points, just ahead of the pack, but can’t manage to create any separation. All three teams directly below Atlanta are within 1 to 4 points and have a game in hand, so if those Ws don’t start showing up before too long (which is a tall task considering the upcoming schedule vs NY, Philadelphia, Montreal, and New England), 5th can turn into a fringe playoff spot all too easily. If Atlanta does, however, manage to survive the next few weeks, then a top-four spot will be quite attainable heading into the Leagues Cup break.
Atlanta United trails the all-time record 2W-4D-9L, but it did manage to pick up its first regular season win back in the reverse fixture in April.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: New York Red Bulls 1-1 Atlanta United
The Five Stripes won’t quite make it back-to-back wins over New York, but it will do enough to extend its unbeaten run thanks to a Giorgos Giakoumakis equalizer after the hosts open the scoring.