Atlanta United vs. Red Bulls: 4 things to watch

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Atlanta United has an important opportunity when it hosts the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Not only can the Five Stripes (5-8-3) defeat the Red Bulls (6-8-2) for the first time in a regular-season match, if it does it can possibly move from ninth place in the East to seventh, which would be an important cushion in the short race to earn one of the 10 playoff spots. The team has six games remaining after it hosts the Red Bulls.

The teams have played each other once and since have experienced a lot in a season already made challenging by COVID-19. Both teams parted with the managers who were in place during that first meeting July 11. The Red Bulls have hired their next manager, Gerhard Struber, but he won’t be in charge Saturday.

Things are different recently as well. Atlanta United has earned seven points from its past five and is growing in confidence. The Red Bulls have only two wins in their past five, including two consecutive losses.

Here are four things to watch:

Ending a streak. Atlanta United’s all-time record against the Red Bulls is 0-4-1 in the regular season, including a 1-0 loss in the MLS tournament in Orlando.

“Hopefully, we can put to bed that we haven’t beaten Red Bulls in the regular season,” interim manager Stephen Glass said.

Glass pointed out that the team had never beaten D.C. United in Washington until doing so two games ago.

“So the team is doing things it’s never done before,” he said.

Captain Jeff Larentowicz said breaking a hex against the Red Bulls isn’t as important as the three points it could get from a win and continuing to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Revisiting Orlando. Glass implied that he hasn’t put much into watching the teams' meeting in Orlando because he doesn’t think there’s a similarity to Atlanta United then, when it was managed by Frank de Boer, and now.

Glass said he thinks that the team now is more cohesive and organized. It has shutouts in three of its past four games.

In that first meeting, Florian Valot scored the winning goal in the fourth minute, which started an unfortunate trend of Atlanta United giving up goals within the first 15 minutes of games.

Larentowicz said the Red Bulls won’t change much because they have an aggressive pressing style that works for them, one known around the world.

Barco will not play. Glass said that Ezequiel Barco will miss his sixth consecutive game. Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said Thursday that it was possible that Barco could play Saturday or Wednesday at Inter Miami.

However, Glass said that Barco hasn’t trained with the team this week, so he will not be a part of Saturday’s plans. Because Barco hasn’t trained, Glass said he considers him to be injured.

“When he hasn’t trained, it’s better for him not to play,” Glass said.

The team won’t disclose Barco’s injury because Bocanegra said he doesn’t want to give opponents information. Bocanegra said that Barco has met with the team’s medical staff as often as three times a day to try to regain fitness.

Barco, 21, has scored two goals, both coming in the season’s first two games, in 10 appearances.

Other players not available Saturday are Josef Martinez and Erick Torres.

Moreno may play. Marcelino Moreno, introduced by the club Thursday, hasn’t trained with the team because he’s finishing COVID-19 quarantine, but will be available for selection Saturday.

Glass wouldn’t say if Moreno will start or be used as a sub, but he said the team has a plan for him.

“We won’t put him in a situation where he’s expected to carry the team on his back,” Glass said.

Glass cautioned against expecting too much of Moreno too soon. He expects to see some rust.

“You won’t see the Marcelino tomorrow that you will see five games down the line,” Glass said.

Glass typically has been judicious with minutes given to players who haven’t played recently. Glass implied that Moreno’s situation is different than those of Jurgen Damm or Erick Torres, for example, because he went through preseason training with Lanus in Argentina and is fit.

Larentowicz said he didn’t think Moreno not having trained with his new teammates is going to be an issue Saturday.

“He’s clearly brought here for his talent and his ability,” Larentowicz said. “Everyone is going to be looking around, what is he going to do, what does he like to do and what does that mean for me?”

Atlanta United coming games

Saturday vs. New York Red Bulls (4-6-2), 6 p.m., FSSO

Wednesday at Miami (3-7-2), 8 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 18 at Toronto (6-2-4) in Hartford, Conn., 7:30 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 24 vs. D.C. United (2-5-5), 4 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 28 at Orlando (6-2-4), 7:30 p.m., FS1

Nov. 1 vs. Cincinnati (3-6-3), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (8-1-3), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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