Why Atlanta United must be bold at the Red Bull Arena


Atlanta United travels to face the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday with a win that is not entirely decisive to ensure the MLS Cup playoff qualifiers, but with a home advantage on the border.

The Five Stripes have done brilliantly to drag themselves up the table and won 10 of their 19 games after the removal of Gabriel Heinze, who won just two of his 13 MLS games in charge.

But inconsistency, defensive decay and some upward waste have caused Atlanta to lose some points that really should be in the bank. Gonzalo Pineda and Rob Valentino deserve great praise for reviving what was almost another lost season. But at this point, given the speed that was built up and the talent that Atlanta has, it would feel like a travesty to miss the home advantage – or the playoffs altogether.

Atlanta United could not have chosen a better opponent to travel to in their penultimate game than the Red Bulls. Gerhard Struber has performed similar miracles to turn his season around, with seven wins, just one loss and six zeros pulling them to seventh and over the playoff line.

But it’s not just Red Bull’s latest form that will make Atlanta fans look nervous. A 0-0 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium already in June means that during nine regular season meetings between the two teams, the Five Stripes have not yet come out on the winning side. In addition, they have never won in all competitions at the Red Bull Arena and have not even scored against New York in their last three meetings. There is often more anxiety ahead of this match from the 17th century than their closest rivals – at least geographically – Orlando City.

So, how much does Pineda bet on this match? After all, Atlanta United will be in a playoff spot regardless of heading to Decision Day where they travel to FC Cincinnati, who have lost 14 of their last 15 games and appear to have checked out for the season. Never say never, but in Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araujo, Pineda should have enough quality at their disposal to brutally force themselves to three points in Ohio.

The real question is how much Pineda values ​​having at least one playoff game at Benz. Well, Atlanta’s record of traveling this year does not inspire much confidence, with only three wins in 15 games and only 15 of its 47 points so far away.

However, the Five Stripes have only lost three games on their own patch. On Saturday during their 1-1 draw against Toronto FC, Atlanta drew a crowd of 42,536 the night the Braves played their MLB World Series match just 15 miles away in front of 43,125. Atlanta United fans are loud, extremely engaged, and they comes out in numbers unmatched in MLS.

The Red Bulls have been a superb defensive force, but are fighting to break down their opponents. The aforementioned attacking quartet has enough to break up Struber’s back line and in truth it can be the best form of defense to keep the ball down at the other end – you can not be punished for lack of concentration if the game is in the opposing field.

For Atlanta United to be a threat after the season, not just a footnote in someone else’s race against the MLS Cup glory, they must be brave and finally overcome their Red Bull Arena demons.

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