The New York Red Bulls will travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to play Atlanta United FC this Sunday, July 7, 2019. It is the second MLS match-up of the year between these two clubs who met in last season's Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta, of course won that two-legged tie, and eventually went on to win the league championship last season. After a somewhat slow start to the season, they come into this match 4th in the Eastern conference with 29 points through 18 games. New York comes into the game in 6th position in the conference. They are just 2 points behind, with 27 points though 18 games, and can leapfrog Atlanta with a win on Sunday.
Coming into this season, both teams were expected to be near the top of the conference. Neither club is quite as far up in the standings as they would probably like to be. They also seem to be on a bit of the same trajectory at the same time. Both seemed to be rounding into expected form in the early June, only now to have both hit a bump in the road as the calendar has turned to July. Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls have not only both lost 2 of their last 3 matches, but each of them were thrashed by a 4 goal margin in their most recent matches on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Atlanta was burned by the Chicago Fire Soccer Club 5-1, and the Red Bulls were blanked 4-0 by Houston Dynamo. The top 7 clubs make the postseason in each conference in the MLS, and right now, the 8th place New England Revolution are not far back with 23 points, so this is a vital match for both teams to come away with points from.
Atlanta United vs New York Red Bulls Vital Information
This match can be viewed on ESPN Plus in the United States, and can be seen on DAZN in Canada (local coverage also available in those markets). The match is at 2:00 PM EST on Sunday, July 7, 2019.
Referee assignments have Kevin Stott as the referee, with Brian Poeschel and Adam Wienckowski as the assistants. Elijio Arreguin is the 4th official, and VAR is being handled by Alex Chilowicz and assistant Jozef Batko.
This will be the 8th meeting all time between Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls. In the previous 7 meetings, New York has won 5 times, Atlanta has won 1, and there has been 1 draw. It was a New York victory in the most recent of those, 1-0, at New York, back on May 19, 2019. In fact, the only time Atlanta has beaten the Red Bulls head to head was in the first leg of last year's playoff match-up. Their 3-0 result in that match was enough to propel them to the finals in spite of New York's 1-0 win in the second leg.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Atlanta is lead in scoring, as they have been every season of their existence so far, by Josef Martinez. However, his 10 goals in 15 matches this year are closer to his 2017 19 goal pace, than it is to his 2018 MLS record 31 pace. 10 is still good enough to tie him with Wayne Rooney for 3rd in the league, and exactly halfway through the season puts him on pace for an even 20 goals. Martinez is without a doubt 1 of the top 3 to 5 strikers in the MLS, but he is also clearly missing the playmaking abilities of the departed Miguel Almiron. Last season, Almiron, who is now playing in the Premier League with Newcastle United F.C. had 14 assists last season. Almiron's replacement Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez has shown flashes, but only has 3 assists so far this year. Perhaps even more telling is that Julian Gressel had 14 assists last season as Almiron's running mate, while this season Gressel has managed just 3. In fact, nobody on Atlanta has more than 3 assists in 2019 thus far.
If I told you that Brian White was leading New York in scoring with 5 goals on the season, you would think that they were a team that was struggling offensively. While it is true that White is leading the squad with that relatively low goal total, the Red Bulls have actually outscored Atlanta on the season by a 30 to 24 margin. The secret lies in their depth. A look at their team statistics reveals that a whopping 16 different players have scored at least 1 goal for the New York Red Bulls so far in 2019. By comparison, just 8 players, or half as many have gotten onto the score sheet for Atlanta this season.
Last season Atlanta made their name as a high flying offensive powerhouse, and put the onion in the bag a league leading 70 times. Their defense wasn't bad either with 44 goals allowed (tied for 4th in the league), but wasn't how they won their championship. This season Atlanta is surprisingly struggling to score, and their aforementioned 24 goals put them in the bottom half of the conference. However, what they lost on offense, they have made up for a bit on defense. So far they have allowed 20 goals on the year, which is second in the conference behind New York City FC (19 goals allowed). It also puts them on pace to allow 4 fewer goals than they did in 2018. The Red Bulls have gone in the opposite direction. Their 62 goals scored last year were good enough for second behind Atlanta in 2018. They are just one off of that pace this season with 30 goals through 18 games, but their defense has dropped off significantly. Last season, they allowed 33 goals, which was the lowest total in the league. The 24 goals they've allowed this season is just 9 less than all of last year, and puts them on pace to concede 15 more times than they did in 2018.
Atlanta's recent struggles can certainly be linked to the absence of Josef Martinez, who has not not played an MLS match in over a month. Martinez last played for Atlanta on June 1, 2019 against Chicago Fire, before joining the Venezuelan national team for the 2019 Copa America. The call away could not have come at a worse time for Atlanta as Martinez had recorded 6 goals in 6 games, including back-to-back braces before leaving for international duty. He has returned to club and reports were out that he was expected to play on Wednesday against Chicago, but he ended up as an unused sub. Unless he is battling an unreported injury, I fully expect to see him back on the field and starting on Sunday.
With Atlanta still alive in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, they are in the middle of a brutal stretch in the season that has them playing 8 games in 25 days between June 26 and July 21, 2019. Not only that, but at no point during this stretch do they have more than 3 days rest in between games. To make matters even worse, Sunday will be their 4th game in 7 days, and then they will have to turn right around and play USL Championship side St. Louis FC on Wednesday July 10, 2019 in the Open Cup. The Red Bulls will not exactly be on fresh legs either, as they will be playing their third game in 9 days. However, before that they had been off since June 11, 2019. Already having been eliminated from the Open Cup, they will enjoy a full week of rest after playing Atlanta.
Atlanta United vs New York Red Bulls Prediction
On paper it doesn't get much more even than this match-up. Atlanta leads New York by 2 points in the standings, while New York is 2 better on goal differential. On top of that, these are both talented clubs with experience and expectations of winning. They both come in off bad losses, with tired legs, and in desperate need of points. They also match strengths against weaknesses. New York looks to be a bit better on offense, while Atlanta looks a bit better on defense. If Martinez does indeed return on Sunday, and if he plays the way that he was before the Copa America, then that alone could be the difference in this game.
I watched the earlier match between the two clubs, and Atlanta looked slow and out of sync on the Kentucky Bluegrass surface at Red Bull Arena. It is no secret that Atlanta plays their best on the fast carpet of their home field, and they will have that advantage this Sunday. With both teams desperate for points, I wouldn't be surprised if both clubs showed a willingness to play for the draw if it is level late in the contest. That doesn't seem to be either team's MO however, as they have combined for just 5 draws between them all year. The Red Bulls have seemed to have Atlanta's number a bit, and have fairly dominated this series since Atlanta came into the league in 2017. That being said, in last year's playoffs Atlanta put forth a dominant performance at home, proving that New York doesn't hold their kryptonite. Expect the crowd to really to really get into it if Martinez makes his return tomorrow, and I am going to assume he does. Games between these two clubs have tended to be tight, and on the lower scoring end recently, so I am going to call it 2-1 in favor of Atlanta.
Prediction: Atlanta United 2 New York Red Bulls 1