Two clubs in good form will clash Sunday when first-place Atlanta United hosts the surging New York Red Bulls on the quick pitch inside raucous Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes (8-2-1) own the best record in MLS with a league-high 25 points. They bounced back from a short-handed loss to Sporting Kansas City with a resounding road win over a quality Orlando SC squad last Sunday.
“It’s very important, especially in a league where winning on the road is so difficult,” Atlanta coach Tata Martino told reporters after the win. “I think it’s really important and I think we’re deserving of it, and even more so coming off of a loss at home on Wednesday.”
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The Red Bulls (6-3-0) have won three in a row, highlighted by a 4-0 drubbing of rival New York City FC on May 5. Extending that winning streak in Atlanta won’t be easy.
“This will be unique, that crowd, that stadium, the noise, everything will be fun,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch told reporters after training Tuesday. “I think that our guys have shown that in big games that they enjoy those moments, they enjoy the pressure, they enjoy going up against a good opponent. I expect us to rise to the challenge, but we will go after it that much I know about this group that we will go after it.”
Atlanta leads MLS goals with 25, eight from league-leading striker Josef Martinez, who buried his eighth goal of the season, on a penalty kick, in the win at Orlando. Miguel Almiron is tied for third in MLS with New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips with six goals.
Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Martinez and Almiron may get plenty of opportunities against the Red Bulls, who feature a high-pressure style that can lead to breakouts.
“They are an intense team on the whole field: playing, pressing, defending, everything they do,” Martino told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Red Bulls are also balanced. Thirteen New York players have scored this season. Last year, only 11 different Red Bulls scored goals.
“The guys are prepared for whatever is thrown at them,” Marsch said. “They’re going to stick to who we are, and they’re not going to waiver. And we’re going to find ways in games to do the things and accomplish the things that we want to accomplish.”