Sunday’s winner will apply even more pressure on first-place Philadelphia, which leads Atlanta United by three points but has won just two of its past five games.
The teams are coming in with confidence.
Despite playing without leading scorer Josef Martinez, Atlanta United won at Orlando 2-0 on Tuesday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. Atlanta United declined to say Saturday whether Martinez, who didn’t make the trip to Florida because of an injured adductor, will be available to play Sunday.
Since switching to a 3-5-2 formation, Atlanta United is 4-1 with 15 goals scored, four allowed and four shutouts.
NYCFC defeated Houston 3-2 on Thursday at Yankee Stadium on a goal by Valentin Castellanos in the third minute of stoppage time. The team has won three of its past four after a two-game losing skid.
“New York is a very good team,” de Boer said. “They have quality players. It’s a team that we have count on for MLS Cup. They’ve lost one or two games the whole season. They are very solid and the quality during game is a very high standard.”
Defending NYCFC is difficult because, unlike Atlanta United with Martinez, who leads the team with 18 goals and has scored in nine consecutive league games, the Boys in Blue don’t have a bona fide scorer. Heber leads the team with nine of its 40 goals. Six players have scored at least four goals. While the goals come from all over the field, the assists do not. Maxi Moralez leads MLS with 13 assists.
Atlanta United centerback Miles Robinson said NYCFC’s goals by committee doesn’t change his approach. after spending the past two games dominating Orlando’s Dom Dwyer and the L.A. Galaxy’s Uriel Antuna.
“It’s a big game,” Robinson said. “It should be a big one. I think we are ready for it. We are eager.”
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