With just four matches remaining in the regular season, and the Supporters Shield title on the line, the New York Red Bulls will host a red-hot Atlanta United at Red Bull Arena this Sunday.
Atlanta United comes to Red Bull Arena with the Supporter’s Shield on the line
There are mixed emotions heading into this fixture. The Red Bulls’ hard fought win over Toronto FC should inject a healthy dose of confidence into the side. But the loss of Bradley Wright-Phillips due to yellow card accumulation will have fans feeling uneasy. The club talisman commented that he was “gutted” to miss “the biggest game of the year.”
History, however, favors the Red Bulls in this fixture. They are yet to lose to the sophomore franchise in three meetings. Daniel Royer and Wright-Phillips are the fixtures leading goal scorers at two goals a piece.
Off the back of signing a new multi-year contract, Kemar Lawrence has confidently challenged the opposition.
“Bring everything you got from Atlanta and bring it to New York,” said Lawrence midweek. “We will be up for the challenge.”
Atlanta comes into this match looking for their fourth win on the spin. Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel have combined for four goals and six assists across Atlanta’s last three matches. Qualification for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League will only further motivate the Five Stripes.
Last weekend’s win over Real Salt Lake also saw Gressel and Almiron match Kaku on 14 assist for the season. The Red Bulls boast a league best 32 goals conceded, but Atlanta’s creative sparks are going to ask questions defensively.
In truth, the entire Atlanta squad is riding a huge wave of confidence and momentum heading in Sunday. On top of two convincing victories over Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids, they stunned with their comeback victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. It was the type of display you expect from potential champions. They refused to let the home atmosphere interfere with their superior style of play and personnel.
The debut of academy starlet George Bello against RSL further boosted the morale of the squad. The 16 year-old rarely put a foot wrong on either side of the ball. He managed to keep Jefferson Savarino quiet for most of the match. Bello accomplished a feat experienced fullbacks have struggled to accomplish this season.
“The good thing is that we have young players that we can add to a very solid team,” Tata Martino told the press following the match. Chris McCann is likely to return this weekend, but it should not surprise if Martino goes with Andrew Carleton or Miles Robinson.
Chris McCann and Brad Guzan have, however, commented on the potential headaches BWP’s replacement could cause them. “That becomes a bit tricky in terms of what you are going up against and what you are going into,” Guzan told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Wright-Phillips’ suspension, though damaging to the Red Bulls’ offense, presents an opportunity. In Wright-Phillips absence, another forward will look to make their mark.
Players to Watch
Almiron and Martinez are the obvious threats, but last year’s Rookie of the Year is no lightweight. His vision, strength, awareness, and versatility are what make him such an integral part to the way Atlanta function. He works tirelessly on and off the ball to create space for his offense. Though Tyler Adams will likely be shadowing Almiron for most of the match, his occasional confrontations with Gressel in midfield should be an interesting factor to who wins on the night.
It is a bit of stating the obvious here, but Wright-Phillips’ absence from the squad puts more pressure on the Paraguayan’s performance. He will be in a battle with Miguel Almiron and Julian Gressel to see who can create more clear-cut opportunities for their teammates. At the same time, Kaku is going to have to be able to put away opportunities himself when the moments arise. The Paraguayan midfielder was not brought in to score goals, but he could build on his goal against Toronto and add to tally ahead of the Playoffs.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography