The race for the MLS play-offs is hotting up and this weekend sees a potentially explosive clash between two of the Eastern Conference’s big guns.
Red Bulls Domination
Atlanta may be the reigning MLS champions, but in their brief history in the league, they have had the worst of their rivalry with the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls were Atlanta’s opponents in their first ever MLS game, back in March 2017. The New Yorkers won 2-1 that day and have won four of their six meetings, with one draw.
But Atlanta’s one victory in this rivalry was significant. Last year they beat the Red Bulls 3-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final, and that was enough to secure their place in the MLS Cup Final, despite losing the second leg in New York 1-0.
Atlanta Still Strong at Home
Frank de Boer took over in Atlanta this season, replacing Gerardo Martino, and it has taken the Atlanta players a while to adjust to his methods. They’ve already lost seven times this campaign although their home record remains impressive, and they’ve suffered just one defeat at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they’ve won their last three, conceding just one goal in the process.
Red Bulls Struggle on the Road
The Red Bulls are off the pace set in the East by Philadelphia and DC United, and the main reason is their poor form on the road. They’ve won just twice on their travels so far this campaign, and their last road trip, to Houston on Wednesday, resulted in a 4-0 thrashing. The good news for the Red Bulls is that key striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who came on as a substitute in that game, should be fit enough to start in Atlanta, which will help take some of the pressure off their defence.
Clash of Styles in Prospect
As well as being a rematch of the 2018 Conference Final, this game should also provide a fascinating contrast between Atlanta’s possession-based play and the Red Bulls’ reactive counter-attacking tactics. And the bookmakers are clear on which they think will prevail. Atlanta are rated a 3/5 chance, while New York, who will be without regular starters Michael Amir Murillo and Kaku, who were both sent off in Houston, can be backed at 5/1, with the draw rated a 3/1 shot.