Atlanta United vs NYCFC: How they match up

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan (1) goes up for the ball against NYCFC Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)
Caption
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan (1) goes up for the ball against NYCFC Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Atlanta United will play at NYCFC at 3 p.m. Sunday in the first round of the MLS playoffs. The game will be broadcast on ABC.

How the teams matchup:

Goalkeeper

Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan vs. Sean Johnson.

Guzan posted 10 clean sheets to Johnson’s nine.

Guzan posted a 77.2 percent save percentage to Johnson’s 73.5.

The most important differences between the keepers are Guzan’s distribution, which is better than Johnson’s, and Guzan’s experience in the playoffs compared with Johnson’s.

Guzan has allowed only eight goals in 13 games. Johnson has allowed 14 in eight.

Advantage: Atlanta United.

Centerbacks

Miles Robinson, Alan Franco and Anton Walkes vs. Alexander Callens (or James Sands) and Maxime Chanot.

Atlanta United’s back line features Robinson, a regular starter for the U.S. men’s national team and a candidate for MLS Defender of the Year, as well as the steady Walkes and Franco, who can be a wild card but has improved a great deal during the season.

Callens may be out because of a muscle injury. Chanot is a no-nonsense defender. It will be interesting to see how effective he is without Keaton Parks ahead of him.

Sands appeared for the U.S. men’s national team in the Gold Cup as a centerback. While his distribution was good, his defending was erratic.

It also will be interesting to see if James Sands slides over from fullback to centerback if Callens can’t go.

Advantage: Atlanta United.

Fullbacks

Brooks Lennon and George Bello vs. James Sands or Tayvon Gray and Malte Amundsen.

Lennon and Bello have combined for nine assists this season. Lennon finished the season in the top 10 in MLS in chances created.

Sands and Amundsen finished with three assists, all by Amundsen. If Sands slides to centerback, watch for Tayvon Gray to slide at right back.

Like Bello and Lennon, Amundsen and Sands are good one-on-one defenders with high tackling and pressure percentages.

It will be interesting to see how many times Lennon and Bello can get forward without being on top of teammates on the small field at Yankee Stadium.

Advantage: Draw.

Midfielders

Santiago Sosa, Matheus Rossetto, Franco Ibarra and Marcelino Moreno vs. Alfredo Morales, unknown and Maxi Moralez.

Other than Moreno, who has nine goals and five assists, who aren’t going to get much in the way of offense from the rest of Atlanta United’s centerbacks. Their defense typically is good, but each has a tendency to lose players running in behind them. None have played at Yankee Stadium, with its small size and odd optics.

Moreno missed a great deal of training in the previous two weeks. Even if healthy, it will be interesting to see if he plays because the pass-and-move style needed at Yankee Stadium isn’t among his strengths.

Keaton Parks, a pivotal player, is out with injury and his backup, Gideon Zelalem, was given a red card in the finale and will miss this game.

Moralez, with three goals and 11 assists. can single-handedly wreck an opposing defense.

Advantage: NYCFC.

Wingers

Ezequiel Barco and Luiz Araujo vs. Jesus Medina and Santiago Rodriguez.

Barco posted career highs in goals (seven) and assists (eight) this season, his fifth in the league. He also was among league leaders in fouls won.

Araujo, in his first season in MLS, finished with four goals and four assists in 15 appearances. That’s not a bad return for someone who joined mid-season with no previous experience playing in MLS or living in the U.S.

Media had nine goals and four assists in 33 appearances. Rodriguez had three goals and one assist in 21 appearances.

The winner of this game may come down to which set of wingers can cause the most havoc.

From an Atlanta United perspective, playing on the small field would seem to best suit Araujo, who is very good at beating defenders in tight spaces. It will be interesting to see how it affects Barco, who typically tries to dribble away from defenders rather than take them on.

Advantage: Draw.

Strikers

Josef Martinez vs. Valentin Castellanos.

The Golden Boot winner in 2018 vs. this season’s Golden Boot winner.

Martinez won the award in 2018 by scoring 31 goals in 34 appearances. He scored 12 in 24 games this season. He scored one goal every 137 minutes.

Castellanos scored 19 goals in 32 appearances this season. He scored one goal every 145 minutes.

Both have shown this season an ability to create magic from difficult circumstances. Martinez’s spinning volley proved the game-winner against Cincinnati. Castellanos secured a draw and the homefield advantage with his header against Philadelphia.

If Atlanta United continues to play two defensive midfielders and three centerbacks, Castellanos typically will be triple-teamed.

Martinez may be fronted by an inexperienced defensive midfielder and a centerback who normally plays fullback.

Advantage: Atlanta United.

Coaching

Gonzalo Pineda vs. Ronny Deila.

This will be Pineda’s first time managing a team in a playoff as a head coach. He has a lot of experience managing playoff teams as an assistant with Seattle from 2017-21, helping them win an MLS Cup in 2019. The team made the playoffs each year Pineda was there, twice finishing as a runner-up.

Deila has managed in one MLS playoff game, which was a loss to Orlando in penalties.

Advantage: Atlanta United.

Bench

Pineda doesn’t use his bench that much, unless he has chosen to rest one of his normal starters. A difference could be if Moreno doesn’t start. The team typically has influencers in Jake Mulraney on offense and George Campbell on defense.

NYCFC has Thiago (four goals) and Guomonder Thorarinsson, who hit the free kick in the 90th minute that earned his team a draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Advantage: NYCFC.

Intangibles

Yankee Stadium.

That’s it.

That’s the intangible.

Very few of Atlanta United’s likely starters have played at Yankee Stadium. For others, it’s been since 2019. Of Atlanta United’s typical starters, only Martinez, Barco, Robinson, Guzan and Lennon have played there.

The field is the minimum size required by FIFA and some suspect it’s not even that big. Visually, it is weird because the field is across the outfield of the baseball diamond, which means there are no stands exactly parallel to the touchlines.

For players who are used to that, it’s not an issue.

For those who aren’t, it can take a long time to get used to it.

Interestingly, Atlanta United has never been shut out at Yankee Stadium, having scored four goals there in four games, including the playoffs. It has allowed eight goals.

Advantage: NYCFC.

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Atlanta United’s playoff schedule

Nov. 21 at NYCFC, 3 p.m., ABC

Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto 0

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0

Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

Oct. 16 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 0

Oct. 20 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

Oct. 27 Atlanta United 2, Miami 1

Oct. 30 Atlanta United 1, Toronto1

Nov. 3 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

Nov. 7 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 1

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