Currently below the playoff line, Atlanta United have six games left to ensure they don’t miss out on the post-season for the second campaign in a row.
Luckily for the Five Stripes, the Eastern Conference is incredibly close, with just 10 points separating Nashville in second with the Red Bulls down in ninth. Atlanta themselves are only a single point adrift of CF Montreal, NYCFC, and DC United in the three spots above them.
What’s more, this is a totally different team now under Gonzalo Pineda – credit to Rob Valentino here as well – with some genuinely exciting, attacking soccer being played far more often than not.
With all of that said, what can we expect from Atlanta United’s final six games? Let’s try to predict the outcomes and project their final points total, which currently stands at 39.
Just a few weeks ago, this fixture would have been seen as pretty straightforward for Atlanta with Toronto recently occupying last place in the East. But then the Reds went and put a four-game unbeaten run together in MLS, winning three and drawing once.
Sure, two of their three wins have come against lowly Chicago Fire and FC Cincinnati, but a victory over Nashville SC and a draw with the Colorado Rapids are impressive results.
Interim boss Javier Perez seems to have stemmed the flow defensively, with TFC conceding more than once on just one occasion across that four-game stretch. They’re also scoring again, finding the net six times in their last two games.
Yeferson Soteldo has a goal and three assists in his last four games and could prove a real handful, while it’ll be interesting to see how the ATL forward line copes on a cold night in Canada, especially if Josef Martinez isn’t recovered from a hamstring problem.
Predicted scoreline: Toronto FC 1-1 Atlanta United
Conversely, this home tie against NYCFC now looks more appealing than it would have done a month ago. Ronny Deila’s men have slipped down to sixth in the East, with their only win across their last eight games coming against FC Cincinnati.
They’re still scoring a decent amount – as they should with the likes of Taty Castellanos and Maxi Moralez in the side – but NYCFC have started leaking goals.
Their only clean sheet across that eight-game slump came in a 0-0 draw against Nashville last time out. To make matters worse, Anton Tinnerholm went out of that game with a busted ACL, leaving a huge gap at right-back.
Atlanta have a pretty terrible record away at NYCFC, with their only victory in five visits coming in the first leg of their 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference final clash.
But, even taking into consideration the long trip to New York, Atlanta have the defensive capabilities to shut down NYCFC’s most threatening pieces. And with Tinnerholm out, it’s hard to see the likes of Ezequiel Barco, Luiz Araujo and Marcelino Moreno not causing havoc, regardless of Martinez’s status.
Predicted scoreline: NYCFC 1-2 Atlanta United
It’s been a long time since Inter Miami’s mini-revival came to an end and across the last month, Phil Neville’s men have been in a complete tailspin.
The Five Stripes have already taken four points from the Herons this season, beating them 1-0 as recently as 29 September, with Josef Martinez grabbing his 100th goal for the club.
There’s little to suggest history won’t repeat itself here, as long as Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes and co keep a lid on Gonzalo Higuain, who still has the odd moment of magic in his locker. Home advantage tips the scales even further in United’s favour, especially considering Miami’s playoff hopes will likely be mathematically over by then.
Predicted scoreline: Atlanta United 3-0 Inter Miami
Unlike the trip to BMO Field, facing Toronto at the ‘Benz’ should be a far simpler task. Atlanta United have lost just three of their 14 home games so far, while TFC have only picked up eight points on the road. FC Cincinnati’s four is the only worse record in the East.
Taking aside Atlanta’s 1-0 home win over TFC earlier this season, it’s important to remember Toronto have hurt the Five Stripes on their own patch before. The memory of the 2019 Eastern Conference final still hurts.
But that was Greg Vanney’s Toronto who, though not too different in personel, were a far more cohesive and confident unit. Again, home advantage will get it done. Atlanta just have too much in attack for the joint-worst defence in MLS.
Predicted scoreline: Atlanta United 2-0 Toronto FC
This fixture may have lost its shine a little in recent times, but Atlanta United and the Red Bulls still have a real disdain for each other. The fact the Five Stripes have managed just one win in 11 against their rivals grates really hard. That poor record might continue here.
Where NYCFC have fallen off a cliff, their Hudson River derby adversaries have rediscovered their mojo, going six unbeaten and picking up 14 points to drag themselves back into the playoff race.
Patryk Klimala has proven an astute addition to the forward line, while Sean Nealis has been a rock at the heart of the defence. Gerhard Struber has also helped Omir Fernandez emerge from the shadows of Caden Clark, putting in some dynamic performances in midfield.
Red Bull Arena isn’t even what it once was, but the Five Stripes could struggle there again, nonetheless.
Predicted scoreline: New York Red Bulls 2-0 Atlanta United
Given how much of a hot mess the Eastern Conference is right now, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the playoff race goes down to Decision Day. You’d also wager Atlanta could be one of a clutch of sides hunting down a spot in the post-season by then.
Is there a better team in the league to face than FC Cincinnati under those circumstances?
Sure, Cincy keep on filling TQL Stadium and their fans deserve huge credit. But the product they’re served on the pitch is truly awful.
Lucho Acosta has been dragging a boulder up a hill with his performances, while Brenner looks like he could be a good striker at this level in the right time. Beyond that, Cincinnati are uninspiring.
At the time of writing, the Orange and Blue are enduring a six-game losing run that started with a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Atlanta United.
It’s hard to see that scoreline being repeated, but with Cincinnati’s season already over and another Wooden Spoon likely in the bank, they might well prove generous final-day opponents.
Predicted scoreline: FC Cincinnati 0-2 Atlanta United
There’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge between now and the end of the season and predicting anything in MLS is practically impossible.
If the above projection does come to pass, you’d back the 52 points it’d leave Atlanta United on to be enough to get them into the playoffs. The last time an Eastern Conference side missed out with that points total was back in 2012 when only five teams per conference made the post-season.