Atlanta United feels like it has one hand on its first trophy heading into Sunday’s pivotal game at New York Red Bulls.
The Five Stripes secured nine points in eight days to build a four-point lead in the race for the Supporter’s Shield with four games remaining,
“We might have a hand, but Red Bulls want to cut that hand off,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said on Saturday after his team defeated Real Salt Lake 2-0 behind goals from Julian Gressel and Hector Villalba.
The game against Red Bulls has been predicted to be the deciding game for the Supporters’ Shield in the past few weeks as both teams pulled away from a pack that included NYCFC, Sporting KC and FC Dallas.
Atlanta United leads the league with 63 points and Red Bulls have 59 after they defeated Toronto 2-0 on Saturday. They are among the highest-scoring teams in the league. They have the two largest goal-differentials.
“Kind of a big one, but I think the pressure’s on them, you know,” Gressel said. “We’re the number one, and we’ll stay there no matter what the outcome is of that game. We have a nice and calm week to prepare and get ready, and why not go there and win and then kind of make it really tough for them?”
The Red Bulls will likely be without striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was given a yellow card against Toronto that, because of accumulation, will result in a one-game suspension. He told MLS after the game that he is gutted to miss Sunday’s showcase game.
Wright-Phillips scored two goals in the Red Bulls’ 3-1 win against Atlanta United on May 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United should be healthy and rested. Martino gave Michael Parkhurst and Chris McCann the day off in the win against Real Salt Lake. George Bello, 16, made his debut in place of McCann.
Should Atlanta United defeat Red Bulls, it would be its 11th road win this season, extending the MLS record it set with the 4-3 win against San Jose on Sept. 19.
More importantly, it would give the team a seven-point lead with three games remaining in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield.
“It’s a nice game because we’re both at the top,” Villalba said. “Luckily, we were able to create a good difference (in the table), and we’ll see what happens.”