Atlanta United back from its short break

March 18, 2017, Atlanta: Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (right) celebrates his second of two goals against the Chicago Fire for a 4-0 victory in their MLS game on Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
March 18, 2017, Atlanta: Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (right) celebrates his second of two goals against the Chicago Fire for a 4-0 victory in their MLS game on Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta United’s players are mostly rested, ready and not concerned about the permutations that could affect playoff seedings in the MLS Eastern Conference.

The Five Stripes are in third place with 53 points and two games remaining. The team can’t finish in first, which has been locked down by Toronto and its 65 points, nor can it finish in sixth, which currently is occupied by the New York Red Bulls and its 46 points. Atlanta United will play at the Red Bulls on Sunday in Harrison, N.J., and conclude the regular season at 4 p.m. Oct. 22 against Toronto at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But the slots between second and fifth, which are separated by just six points, are in play and there is a huge difference between the impact of finishing in fourth and fifth. The third- and fourth-place teams get to host playoffs games in the one-off knockout round Oct. 25 or Oct. 26. The first- and second-place teams get a bye. Atlanta United is 11-3-2 at home and 4-6-6 on the road.

Asked if he has tried to work out the math on how many points are needed to secure the various seeds,  Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said no. Chicago is in fourth with 52 points, and Columbus is in fifth with 50 points. Each team has two games remaining.

“We just want to go out and win on Sunday,” he said. “If we get four points, we guarantee ourselves a home game. Six points, and we could avoid that first-round game.

“More importantly, we want to have two good performances that we feel good about. We aren’t afraid of playing a play-in game, especially if it’s a home game.”

Parkhurst said the key to getting a good result Sunday will be the work the team puts in early this week. The squad is still without injured players Miguel Almiron, Greg Garza and Chris McCann.

Atlanta United enjoyed a few days off after finishing a stretch of eight games in 24 days with a surprising 3-2 loss to fellow expansion team Minnesota United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the team’s first loss in the $1.5 billion stadium and its first in the grueling stretch in which it went 5-1-2.

“We feel good about where we are right now,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “Some more work left to do to get a midweek break (in playoffs). We are all excited for the next two weeks, the postseason and try to make history with this club.”

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