MLS history won’t be on Atlanta United’s side when it takes on New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals of the playoffs.
Atlanta United, the second seed, will host Red Bulls, the top seed and Supporters’ Shield winner after finishing the league season with the most points, on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The second leg will be hosted by Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J. on Nov. 29. The winner of the series will advance to the MLS Cup.
In the history of the MLS playoffs (not including MLS Cups played at a neutral site), lower-seeded teams have just 94 wins, 152 losses and 60 ties.
However, in a good sign for Atlanta United, lower-seeded teams at home have 59 wins, 30 losses and 29 ties. That .623 winning percentage is almost identical to the all-time home winning percentage of teams in MLS history.
So, if the Five Stripes can win and win big, which is something they’ve done in most games at home this season where they are 12-2-4 through the playoffs, they can increase the probability of bucking history and the Red Bulls to earn the right to play for their first title.
“Hopefully go into the second game with a lead,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “Knowing what you need to do in the away leg can be an advantage. It’s always a lot easier to hold a lead than it is to chase a game.”
Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said he doesn’t think the sequence of sites will play a factor in the outcome of the series.
The two teams’ forms this season may be why.
Atlanta United is a league-best 11-5-2 on the road, including its 1-0 win over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the first time this season NYCFC was held without a shot on goal at home.
“On road, we are tough to beat and tough to allow chances,” Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel said.
After losing the regular-season finale, Gressel said Toronto fullback Justin Morrow, who helped his club win last season’s MLS Cup, told him that the first game in a playoff series is the most important. Confidence and good feelings can be built.
But the Red Bulls didn’t set an MLS record for points (72) by allowing teams to build confidence and good vibes. The team is 8-6-4 on the road and 15-2-1 at home, including its losses at Columbus in the first leg and win at home in the second leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal. One of those eight road wins came against Atlanta United in a 3-1 win victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in May. One of its 12 wins at home includes the 2-0 thrashing of Atlanta United in late September. With a win or draw, Atlanta United could have practically sealed the Supporters’ Shield. Instead, it was outplayed.
“Banking on experience of playing them not too long ago,” Parkhurst said. “Banking on experience of Toronto game, as well. experience of New York City as well, winning in the playoffs, now that we’ve done that.”
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