Atlanta United has 10 games remaining in the regular season to secure a playoff berth in its inaugural season. Those 10 games will be played in the next five weeks, including a stretch of six in 17 days.
To clinch a spot in the postseason, the Five Stripes will likely need contributions from unexpected players.
It’s going to be virtually impossible for guys to play all eight games,” team captain Michael Parkhurst said. “Guys are going to have to step up, maybe guys that haven’t played a ton of minutes, thus far in the season.
“Expectation is the level won’t drop when that occurs. Even if the squad is rotated that doesn’t mean we are tossing the game away. We expect to win every game. We know that you can’t win every game. We want to go into every game knowing that we can win, and will.”
Here are five who don’t typically start (which is why Julian Gressel and Kevin Kratz aren’t in the list), but who could impact the results and the probability of making the playoffs:
Key stat: 2 goals.
Comment: Peterson’s first goal was icing on the cake in a 6-1 blowout of Minnesota United. His second may prove invaluable because it secured a point at Sporting KC. His ability to play on the right or left means that Hector Villalba or Yamil Asad won’t be asked or expected to go a full 90 every game.
Key stat: 2 goals.
Comment: Jones, who hasn’t made an appearance since June 3 because of a knee injury sustained while with the Trinidad and Tobago national team, is a different player than anyone else on Atlanta United’s offense because he brings a scrapping dimension that is necessary in MLS. Watch the highlights of him holding off multiple defenders at NYCFC in the penalty box on Carlos Carmona’s goal.
If you were to vertically divide a soccer field into fifths, opponents are packing the middle 3/5s in the past few games, denying Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez space to move or passing lanes to teammates. Jones can help beat that tactic because he will draw multiple defenders. If they don’t, he can keep the ball and teammates can play off him. Plus, at 6-feet, 4-inches tall, he can be a target for set pieces, which could prove an invaluable (and some would say heretofore under-utilized) way for Atlanta United to score.
Key stat: 58 appearances for Burnley in 2008-09 when he was part of a team that secured promotion to Premier League. He knows what it takes to gain valuable results.
Comment: He’s not flashy. He’s not fast. But he has maturity, a very accurate left foot and a versatility that means he can play across the midfield.
“Kevin (Kratz) and Chris have come off the bench and played well for us,” Parkhurst said. “They are going to be counted on to play some big minutes.”
Starts/Appearances: 0/0 for Atlanta United; 10/10 for D.C. United.
Key stat: 360 starts in MLS in a career that started in 2005.
Comment: Atlanta United wouldn’t have traded for Boswell if it didn’t have plans to use him. The big centerback will be expected to give Parkhurst or Leandro Gonzalez Pirez a break. That duo has started every league game for Atlanta United, but both have said it’s unlikely that their starting streaks will continue because of the schedule congestion.
Plus, Boswell knows what it takes to get into and succeed in the playoffs, twice winning the Supporter’s Shield with D.C. United (2006, ’07) and twice making the MLS Cup with Houston (2011, ’12).
“The expectation is he’s going to get some games, he’s going to get some minutes during this stretch,” Parkhurst said. “I think he’s more than capable. We need all those guys to step up and play well when it’s their turn.”
Key stat: 1 goal, one assist.
Comment: Like Jones, Vazquez brings height (he is 6-foot-3) and physical play to Atlanta United’s offense. It was his ability to be a target man that resulted in Peterson’s goal at Sporting KC.
What makes him different than Jones is he can also play on the wing because of his ability and willingness to take on defenders.
“He’s been a big spark for us,” Parkhurst said.