The midfielder discusses leg two of the MLS Eastern Conference finals on Thursday.

Atlanta United must be wary of Red Bulls late in game

Michael Parkhurst has experienced a similar situation that Atlanta United is in as it takes a 3-0 lead into the second leg of the Eastern Conference finals against New York Red Bulls on Thursday.

Parkhurst was with Columbus in 2015 when it took a 2-0 lead into the second leg in Harrison, N.J.

The Crew were cruising until the Red Bulls scored in the third minute of stoppage time.

The rest?

“ ... Absolute chaos,” Parkhurst said he told his Atlanta United teammates Tuesday. “Hopefully we can enter that period of the game with a multi-goal lead. That would help out.”

Parkhurst and the Crew held off Red Bulls and played Portland for the MLS Cup.

If Atlanta United is to hold onto its advantage and advance to the MLS Cup on Dec. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it must overturn two season-long trends in the cold of Red Bull Arena.

New York has scored more goals (17) in the final 15 minutes of games than in any other 15-minute split this season. It has scored the second-most goals (13) in the first 15 minutes of the second half. 

If the Red Bulls have any life remaining, they are going to come out blazing and try to finish strong. 

It just so happens that Atlanta United has allowed the most goals (13) in the final 15 minutes than in any other 15-minute split, and the third-most (7) in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Two of those came when Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in the 51st and 55th minutes in a 3-1 win against Atlanta United on May 20.

A trend in Atlanta United’s favor is that the Red Bulls have yet to complete a rally when trailing at the half. They are 0-4-1 when behind, but 10-3-3 when tied. Atlanta United is 2-3-3 when trailing at the half, and 4-4-2 when tied.

“Every 15 minutes is important,” Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz said. “The first 15 is going to be probably pretty intense. Whatever the scoreline presents in the last 15 is going to be just as wild as sure. You have to focus the entire game. No matter what point of the game, any goal changes the complexion of the series.”

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino both acknowledged and dismissed the significance of the Red Bulls’ ability to rally in the same sentence.

“You have to pay attention to all statistics,” Martino said. “You could say the same in the last game, and we were the ones who scored in the last 15 minutes. Key for us is matching that intensity.”

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