3 Atlanta United players who need to step up for team to make playoffs

Atlanta United attacker Luiz Araujo passes over New England midfielder Corales Gil during the second half of an MLS soccer game at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sunday, May 15, 2022. Thursday, May 12, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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Atlanta United attacker Luiz Araujo passes over New England midfielder Corales Gil during the second half of an MLS soccer game at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sunday, May 15, 2022. Thursday, May 12, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

If Atlanta United is going to earn enough points to secure one of the top four seeds in the MLS playoffs, which would allow it to host at least one game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it’s going to need a few of its key players to increase their production.

ExploreThe good and bad of Atlanta United's MLS season so far

The team, beset by injuries up and down its roster, has still earned 16 points in 13 games. It is tied with four teams for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and is only two points away from seventh-place Miami.

Atlanta is seven points from fourth-place Red Bulls, who have the last home playoff slot, and 10 points from defending champ NYCFC, which is in first place. The Five Stripes are currently closer to the bottom of the table (five points from Chicago) than the top with 21 games remaining. The team will resume its league season when it hosts Miami on June 19 - and thirteen of its remaining games will be against teams that are currently above the red playoff line.

Three players who need to step up are currently playing well, but increased production could mean the difference in the team earning three points for a win, compared to one for a draw and none for a loss.

Luiz Araujo. The winger has two goals and one assist in eight appearances totaling 509 minutes. He was forced to miss five games because of a hamstring injury sustained in the first half of the first game. He is still developing chemistry with Marcelino Moreno, Thiago Almada and Brooks Lennon. Araujo’s skill is evident. He’s a fantastic dribbler, tenacious presser and doesn’t get cheated when he puts his laces through the ball while shooting. He can consider himself unlucky to not have a few more goals. He’s been the victim of great goalkeeping or bad luck on a few of his shots. But the team needs more than one goal and a half-assist every four appearances. The more that he, Moreno, Almada, Lennon and Josef Martinez get to play together the more Araujo’s production should increase. He said a few weeks ago, after returning form the injury, that the team’s supporters were going to see the true Araujo. It’s time.

Alan Franco. The centerback typically plays very well for 89 minutes and 55 seconds of every game. It’s those five seconds when he switches off that continue to get punished, such as the first goal scored by Colorado in the season’s second game. Franco is a very good defender, good with the ball at his feet and good in the air. With Miles Robinson out for the season, and either the up-and-coming George Campbell or Alex de John playing as the second centerback, Franco needs to be consistent for 90 minutes, particularly when defending and getting teammates in the right spots on set pieces. The team can’t keep giving up goals from free kicks if it hopes to make up the ground between it and the top four seeds. It’s a lot of pressure because the team has also lost starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan and starting defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso to season-ending injuries. But Franco is the most experienced player left on the back line. He needs to show that experience for 90 minutes.

Emerson Hyndman. The midfielder may seem like an odd inclusion on this list because he has yet to start a game but I think that is going to change soon because his skill set best fits what manager Gonzalo Pineda wants from the offense: quick passing, finding spaces in the opponent’s formation, and late runs into the box for scoring opportunities. Hyndman has started because the team is being cautious with his minutes after he underwent ACL surgery almost a year ago. Matheus Rossetto has started to develop nicely as a central midfielder but he still has tendencies to hang back rather than get up the field and become involved in the attack. He has yet to score a goal or post an assist in almost 3,000 minutes played with the club. Hyndman, who has four goals and six assists in almost 3,100 minutes, consistently gets forward to add another option.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 vs Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE