This Sunday, Atlanta United get set to play their first Eastern Conference finals against the Supporters’ Shield winners, New York Red Bulls.
First things first, the New York Red Bulls are coming into the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 2-0 lead up on Atlanta during the regular season. With their main goalscorer, Bradley Wright Phillips, in fine form, the Atlanta defense has their work cut out for them.
While Atlanta is not inferior by any means, statistically or talent-wise, what they do have that Atlanta doesn’t, is experience. The New York Red Bulls have participated in 17 playoff matches alongside their goalscorer Wright-Phillips, so they’re no strangers to the MLS Playoffs, or the Eastern Conference finals for that matter.
With Tata Martino almost certainly out of the picture for the 5 Stripes for next year, he’s going to want to leave a good and long-lasting impression on the tremendous fan base Atlanta has acquired over the last year and a half. By making the right calls at the right time throughout the regular season, Tata has earned himself a place in Atlanta history by leading his squad to the Conference finals and earning the prestigious Coach of the Year award along the way.
With Martino masterminding the whole team, and with a full and healthy squad (with the exception of backup striker Romario Williams) Atlanta United will be able to give the Red Bulls everything they’ve got when they square off in the Benz.
The MLS Conference Finals We’ve Been Waiting For
Sometimes, it’s up for debate whether or not the two best teams actually made it to the finals. However, this is not the case. In terms of points, the Red Bulls beat out Atlanta United by 2 points (71 to 69) to grab the record for most points in an MLS season. Who was in 2nd place? Atlanta was.
This will be the finals with the best two Eastern Conference teams and it could go either way, to be honest. This season, we’ve seen these two powerhouses go back and forth achieve win after win and claw their way out of any sort of slump they may have found themselves in, only to find themselves come back even stronger. Leg 1 of 2 will be the particularly important because it’ll be where we have home field advantage so we need to make the most of it.
Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1