The Five Stripes prepare for a string of tough matches. Brace yourselves.
Atlanta United will face the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Thursday as the team continues to trudge through the MLS regular season.
New York Red Bulls sits fourth in the Eastern Conference with 26 points in 17 games and a record of 7-5-5 this season. Curiously, the team also boasts the fourth worst home record in the league this season of 2-2-4. The team boasts a strong midfield with players such as Frankie Amaya (0 goals, 2 assists), Lewis Morgan (7 goals, 1 assist), Omir Fernandez (2 goals, 3 assists), and Luquinhas (5 goals, 2 assists). The team is also fourth (seems to be a pattern here...) in expected goals (1.6) this season and sixth in expected goals at home (1.73). The Red Bulls are proficient at building up through the wings and getting into the box to score. The Red Bulls have recorded 59% of their shots inside the 18-yard box this season - a zone where Atlanta has allowed 56% of the shots against them.
Historically, Atlanta United's record against New York Red Bulls is 1-7-4, which drops to 0-6-4 if you only consider regular season performances. More frightening is the fact that Atlanta has never won in Red Bull Arena where their record is 0-3-2. Actually, Atlanta has never even scored a goal in Red Bull Arena. Never.
Yeah, not great. Unfortunately, that's not all the bad news.
Atlanta will still have to play without DP midfielder Thiago Almada who is serving the last of his three-match suspension and will also be missing fullback Brooks Lennon who, the club announced Monday, will be out for six to eight weeks after suffering an MCL sprain during warmups before the match against Toronto FC.
So, Atlanta United will be forced to play a lineup similar to the one they played at Toronto with Wiley and McFadden as fullbacks. It'll likely look something like this:
Atlanta United Predicted XI
The Red Bulls, on the other hand, do not have a significant amount of injuries, but head coach Gerhard Struber likes to roll out different formations often so we could see anything from their usual 3-4-2-1 to their new 3-4-1-2 that did not have a fantastic debut against an LAFC that scored 2 on it with no reply. I, however, think Struber will play with a back 4 (like he did against Charlotte and Miami earlier this season) so the two center backs, Tom Edwards and Sean Nealis, can create a numerical advantage against Atlanta's lone striker, Josef Martinez. Red Bull's lineup with a back 4 generally looks something like this:
New York Red Bulls Predicted XI
How Does Atlanta Win?
Atlanta needs points to stay afloat and have a chance of crossing the playoff line, but their visits to Red Bull Arena and Yankee Stadium this week are going to be tough games for them to get any. Atlanta needs to solidify that back line. Mistakes in the back have cost several goals for the Five Stripes who don't exactly have a fantastic record when they concede the first goal on the road (2-29-8 all-time), so they need to limit the opportunities this Red Bulls attack can get. This is also a game where the attacking trio of Moreno-Araujo-Martinez needs to start to work together a bit more. The Martinez-Araujo connection showed great promise against Inter Miami and could prove decisive in this game as well.