Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) kicks as New England Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton (18) defends during the first half of an MLS soccer game, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (John Amis)
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Atlanta United vs. New England prepare for Chapter 1 of 2

Atlanta United and New England are in odd positions as they prepare to meet on Decision Day on Sunday, the last round of games of the MLS regular season.

Atlanta United is in second in the East. If it loses to New England, it can’t finish lower than third. The Revs, who the Five Stripes will host, are in seventh. If the Revs defeat Atlanta United, they can’t finish higher than sixth.

In the league’s new single-elimination playoff structure, the second seed will host the seventh seed in the first round of the playoffs and the third seed will host the sixth.

So, it’s probable -- Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said he gives it an 80-percent chance -- that these two teams will meet again Oct. 19 in the playoffs.

With that in mind, how much does either team want to reveal Sunday when they know it’s likely they will meet again in a winner-moves-on match?  Neither team is playing particularly well, which is among the reasons both want a win Sunday. Atlanta United is 2-2-1 in its past five. New England is 1-1-3.

“I think you want to, and Bruce also said it, you want to have a good result with confidence to go into the playoffs,” de Boer said. “For us, also, it’s important that we are in second place, it gives you two home advantages.”

Though Atlanta United is tied with Philadelphia on points (55), if both teams win Sunday, the Five Stripes will finish in second place because of the first tie-breaker (number of wins). Earning that seed will give Atlanta United the right to host its first playoff game. If it wins, it also will get to host the next round. Atlanta United is 11-2-3 at home and 6-10-1 on the road.

New England is locked into playing on the road in the playoffs. The Revs are 3-5-8 on the road this season. Because the team will be on the road, and the first-round opponent likely set, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan and midfielder Jeff Larentowicz predicted that New England manager Bruce Arena may not treat this game as typical.

“After working with him for a bit, he’s probably going to have an ace or two up his sleeve in a sense of not trying to reveal all of his cards before a playoff game,” Guzan said. “In saying that, Sunday is more about us than them. We need to find that feel-good, that positive feeling of scoring goals and winning games.”

But Atlanta United will prepare as if New England will be at full-strength.

“All you have to do is watch their games when they play well,” Larentowicz said. “They just beat New York City 2-0. You got to prepare for them at their best. Just got to win both games. That’s it. And we can do that.”

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