Los Angeles FC v Atlanta United, Saturday July 27, 03:00
The MLS play-offs don’t kick off until October, but the race to get into the top seven is on and this weekend sees a fascinating clash between two top contenders:
Atlanta Dominated Latest Clash
Both of these teams are newcomers to MLS. Atlanta joined in 2017 and LAFC a season later, yet both have made a big impact. Atlanta won the MLS Cup in their second season, while LAFC are leading the way this time. So far, though, the teams have only met once in competitive football, with Atlanta winning 5-0 at home in April 2018.
LAFC the Team to Beat
MLS has become more competitive over the years, with every season throwing up a new front runner and this time round, LAFC, under Bob Bradley, have left the rest standing. Going into this game, they hold a nine-point lead over LA Galaxy in the Western Conference and a seven point lead over the best team in the East, Philadelphia Union.
They are clearly the team to beat, but that can bring its own challenges, as we saw last weekend when LAFC lost the El Trafico derby to Galaxy, who were clearly up for the battle. Beating the runaway MLS leaders is a sure way to boost morale and LAFC can expect to face more teams who will be raising their game before the end of the regular season.
Under Frank de Boer, the defending champions took a while to find their stride, but there are positive signs for Atlanta fans. They have won their last two games by an aggregate of 7-0, and they were particularly impressive in defeating Eastern Conference rivals DC United at the weekend, a win that lifted them to second in the table.
A Tough Test
But for all their recent improvement, this will be a tough test for Atlanta. The trip to the west coast, combined with a relatively short turnaround will make their preparations harder than usual, and they will be up against an LAFC side that will seek to impose a high-press on them from the beginning, although MLS punters wanting to back LAFC will have to take odds of 4/9, with the visitors generally rated at 9/2 and the draw available at 4/1.