Trophies, not records, are the focus of Atlanta United’s players as the MLS season continues to wind down.
Starting at Colorado on Saturday, the Five Stripes have seven games remaining. With 54 points and a game in hand, Atlanta United trails the New York Red Bulls by one point both in the East and in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
The team has yet to win a trophy in its first 1-3/4 seasons. The Supporters’ Shield would be its first. The MLS Cup, which it is favored to win, could be its second.
“We are in a position that we’ve worked so hard to get here all season,” fullback Chris McCann said. “Tata (Gerardo Martino) said it last week: All these achievements and records will be nothing if we don’t have anything to pick up at the end of the year.”
Neither McCann nor teammate Jeff Larentowicz were aware they were on pace to break the points record of 69 set by Toronto last season. Atlanta United could finish with as many as 75 points. If it maintains its current pace of 2 points per game, it will finish with 68.
The team’s remaining schedule includes only two games against a team above the red line in either conference: vs. Real Salt Lake on Sept. 22 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and at New York Red Bulls on Sept. 30.
Throw in that Atlanta United has the best road record (8-3-2) in the league, and breaking the record isn’t improbable.
But McCann said it’s a mistake to assume three points from any of the remaining games, even if Colorado (24 points) and San Jose (20 points) combined can’t match Atlanta United’s points total.
Colorado will present the challenge of altitude. San Jose will challenge Atlanta United because it can score, netting six goals in its past two home games.
Finally, they are two games in a stretch of three in eight days. Real Salt Lake, which has scored 12 goals in its past two games, is the third game.
Larentowicz said the key to the navigating the stretch, and getting the results is easy: Prepare. Play. Rest.
The team may get a boost by the recent return of several players from injuries: Darlington Nagbe, Franco Escobar and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu.
Their return may be invaluable in Atlanta United’s desire to win its first hardware, regardless of its final record.
“For us, it’s about winning the trophy,” Larentowicz said. “I think we will do it with a pretty big record, if we do it.”