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Can Atlanta United still make the playoffs?

Time for some hope, math, and tons of optimism.

Here we go. A server error deleted my ready-to-publish first version of this article, so we'll hope this one actually makes it onto the blog! Deep breaths...

Atlanta fans came into this season optimistic that the team would be competing for the title. The goal this season went from being "get a home playoff game" to "scramble to get in the playoffs by any means possible."

It's no secret that Atlanta United's recent performances have left much to be desired, and the Five Stripes' playoff hopes are fading with each negative result. So I'm going to try to answer (or at least shed some light on) the big question here: does Atlanta United still have a chance at making the playoffs, or will its season be ending early for the second time in three years?

First of all, I'm going to preface this by saying that anything is still mathematically possible. What I'm saying here is simply my honest (and slightly optimistic) opinion about whether Atlanta can get the job done with the games it has left.

That said, let's begin by taking a look at the standings.

Did you catch where Atlanta was? No? Look a little lower. Lower. There you go. Yeah. If things seem dire, it's because they are. Atlanta is 12th in the East and could finish in 13th next week if Toronto beat New England on Saturday. Atlanta is four points from the playoff line but four points from the bottom. Needless to say, getting into the playoffs will not be easy. Especially not when there are only 13 games left to make up the difference.

So now, we've reached the math portion of the article. I've never been particularly good at math, so bear with me here.

For the purposes of this article, we'll assume Cincinnati is the team to beat to get into the playoffs. Taking their average points per game of 1.27 and multiplying it by the number of games they have left (12), we can guesstimate that they'll earn about 15.24 additional points this season. Let's give Atlanta the benefit of the doubt and round down to make it 15. Adding that to the 28 points they currently have, we get 43 as the magic number.

So to recap, Atlanta has 13 games to get to roughly 43 points from the 24 they have right now. That means earning 19 more points by the end of the season.

Now that we know the goal, let's meet the teams that'll be standing in Atlanta's way. I'll list each match and what result I'm predicting. We'll add up the points at the end and see if Atlanta will have enough.

7/30 at Chicago Fire

Result: Win; +3 points

Why: Look, it's my birthday and I'm really hoping they give me the gift of three points. Pretty please? Last time around, Atlanta beat them 4-1 with a first-half hat trick from Ronaldo Cisneros, but this isn't the same Chicago side. The Fire has greatly improved during the past two months, winning their last three games and slowly climbing the standings. In fact, they just passed Atlanta last week. The list of teams this renewed Chicago side has beaten includes Seattle, Toronto, and Philadelphia. It won't be an easy game, but it's a good thing Atlanta has such a great away record...

8/6 vs Seattle Sounders

Result: Draw; +1 point

Why: The Sounders may be having a rough MLS season, but "my CCL title don't lie." Seattle is a much more coordinated side with more quality all around the pitch than Atlanta. However, there are a few variables to consider: could Gonzalo Pineda's knowledge of Brian Schmetzer's systems and tactics help him lead Atlanta to victory over his old mentor? Could the return of Andrew Gutman, an absolute beast on the field, provide Atlanta with the boost it needs to win? I'm not sure, but we'll pencil in a draw for this article.

8/13 at FC Cincinnati

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: Unless Lucho Acosta shoves another referee and is suspended for this match, I don't think Atlanta will pull it off. Cincinnati has the third highest total expected goals in the East and has an attack led by Golden Boot contender (and former Atlanta United player) Brandon Vazquez. If Atlanta couldn't beat them at home, there's no reason to believe they can do it on the road.

8/17 vs New York Red Bulls

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: Now I know people are going to say "but Henry, Atlanta almost beat them at Red Bull Arena!" Well anonymous reader, almost doesn't count in this league because if it did, Atlanta wouldn't be almost last in the standings. Besides, this being a home game might actually be worse because the Red Bulls have the best away record in the league. They've won over twice as many games on the road as they have at home.

Oh, and they have a really good midfield. Yeah, sorry Atlanta. Not. Happening.

8/21 at Columbus Crew

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: Let's rewind back to about two months ago when the Crew paid a visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium without Lucas Zelarayan or Cucho Hernández. Well... it didn't go well for the Five Stripes. Now, Columbus is armed with one of the best number tens in the league and a striker that has scored four goals in 227 minutes (roughly equal to 2.5 games). There's a high chance of Atlanta's leaky defense cracking in this game.

8/28 vs D.C. United

Result: Win; +3 points

Why: Aside from D.C. being at the bottom of the table, they're also pretty much empty in midfield since they moved out Lucho Acosta and Edison Flores. They also have a pretty terrible defense with the third worst total expected goals allowed in the East and are tied for most goals allowed this season. Atlanta also managed to beat them at Audi Field earlier in the season after a weird Marcelino Moreno goal without Luiz Araújo playing in the match. Sure, Taxiarchis Fountas is a threat up front, but I'm relatively confident Atlanta can neutralize his danger by controlling possession and dominating midfield.

8/31 at Philadelphia Union

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: No, no, and a million times no. If Doctor Strange were to use the Time Stone to see 14 million futures, there isn't a single one where Atlanta wins this game (except maybe one where half the team isn't in the hospital). NEXT!

9/4 at Portland Timbers

Result: Draw; +1 point

Why: The Timbers started the season on a rocky road, but seem to have corrected with their recent form. Now with Sebastián Blanco back and an in-form Yimmi Chará, Portland is starting to make up ground. They've won four of their last six games (including a convincing 3-0 win against Cascadian rival Seattle) and are a point away from a playoff spot. Even then, I'd say the Timbers could be evenly matched with Atlanta if the right Atlanta side steps onto the field. There's still more than a month to go for this match, so a lot can change, but Atlanta can optimistically get a draw from this game.

9/10 vs Toronto FC

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: I heard the Reds took a trip to Italy and brought home more than just Limoncello (which I DEFINITELY did NOT drink when I went to Europe last month). They got a couple of Italian national team players that may or may not have helped them put four goals past Charlotte in 47 minutes. Now, Charlotte might not be a fantastic team, but they have less total expected goals allowed than Atlanta (28.3 to 30.7). Besides, the Benz doesn't seem to scare Atlanta's opponents anymore. Now, THAT is pretty scary.

9/14 at Orlando City SC

Result: Win; +3 points

Why: Had to throw the OFYO in there. All jokes aside, Orlando is not as good of a team as their position in the standings would indicate. They seem to be the exact opposite of Atlanta - they don't play very well, but get the results. Atlanta almost managed to get the win against them when they came to town, so maybe they'll get a result starting Thiago Almada to create more chances in the attack.

9/17 vs Philadelphia Union

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: See "8/31 game at Philadelphia Union."

10/1 at New England Revolution

Result: Draw; +1 point

Why: I think everyone expected the Revs to be much better this season after their record-breaking Supporters' Shield run last season. It seems that losing Tajon Buchanan, Adam Buksa, and Matt Turner is weighing heavily on them and their place in the standings seems to prove as much. They do have Albanian national and ex-Juventus striker Giacomo Vrioni who hasn't played significant minutes yet, so it's too early to tell what he will bring. If Atlanta steps onto the field with the right mentality, they should be able to at least get a point from the match.

10/9 vs New York City FC

Result: Loss; +0 points

Why: Even though Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos is going (ON A LOAN???!!!) to Spain, the Pidgeons may have a suitable replacement in Héber who has scored six goals in just 479 minutes (equivalent to about 5.3 games). After Atlanta escaped Yankee Stadium with a point, NYCFC won their next four games and scored eight goals. New York will also have the extra motivation that comes with the prospect of finishing first in the East, an achievement that will assure them passage to the conference semifinals and a place in next year's Concacaf Champions League. It goes without saying that the Pidgeons will not give that up without a fight.

And that's the season. Now, for the moment you've all been waiting for: the final tally. Adding up the points I'm predicting Atlanta to earn over the last 13 games of the season, we get a total of... drumroll, please...

36 points. That's seven points short of the projected playoff line. Bummer.

Now, this doesn't mean that Atlanta absolutely can't make the playoffs - it's still mathematically possible for them to do so. However, they need to start winning and they need to start earning points fast. Time's a tickin'.

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