The Five Stripes face off against their Western Conference twin.
Atlanta United will face Austin FC for the first time ever on Saturday at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Austin FC is currently 2nd in the Western Conference with 34 points in 18 games and a record of 10-4-4. They have the second-strongest record on the road in MLS this season (6-1-3) and are tied for the most goals scored (35). Furthermore, Austin have won all three of their away games at Eastern Conference rivals this season (Montreal, Charlotte, and D.C. United). Austin count on talented players such as Sebastian Driussi (10 goals, 3 assists), Diego Fagundez (3 goals, 7 assists), and Maximiliano Urruti (6 goals).
This game marks the first of Atlanta's three-game home stretch and a crucial three points for the Five Stripes' hopes of making it to the playoffs. Atlanta will have Franco Ibarra returning from suspension as well as a couple of new faces in Raúl Gudiño and Juanjo Purata that will help bolster the defense. On the other hand, Austin will be missing a couple of players due to suspensions. Defender Kipp Keller and defensive midfielder Daniel Pereira will be unavailable for Austin due to a red card and yellow card accumulation, respectively.
Atlanta and Austin are the two teams that lead the league in possession with Atlanta's 58.5% topping Austin's 55.2%. Another interesting stat is that although Austin hold the higher expected goals stat (26.8 to Atlanta's 25.7), Atlanta has a higher expected goal differential (0.6 to Austin's -1.6). This shows that although Austin has scored more and created more chances than Atlanta, they also allow many chances to be created against them. This could be beneficial to the Five Stripes as their attacking talent is adept at creating chances.
Atlanta United Predicted XI
Austin FC Predicted XI
How does Atlanta win?
These are two sides that love to play a possession-based game. If Atlanta can dominate the possession and get the ball to their front four, they'll be able to create more chances and control the flow of the game. The Five Stripes will also have to take extra care defensively as this Austin side will exploit any mistakes from the backline. They need to ensure that Urruti and Driussi are not given the space they need to take shots or get into assist zones. Atlanta didn't do a great job of marking lead goalscorer Taty Castellanos last Sunday, but maybe with the addition of Juanjo Purata to the lineup, they'll be more effective this time around.