New York City FC wraps up a grueling road trip with their second and final match against MLS newcomers Atlanta United FC this Sunday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Here are your major story lines:
Since losing breakout striker Josef Martinez on March 28, Atlanta has won only two of their last eight matches (3-1 against Real Salt Lake and last week’s impressive 4-1 drubbing of Houston Dynamo, featuring a hat-trick from AUFC’s #10, Miguel Almirón). It says a lot about the expansion side’s attack that despite missing eight consecutive matches, Martinez still leads the team in goals scored with five, a mark matched only last week by Almirón’s three-goal performance. City dodged Martinez in their last meeting – a 3-1 affair in which the club had perhaps its most complete performance to date – as he’s been rehabbing a quad injury.
Atlanta boss Tata Martino – serving a ridiculous suspension this week for kicking the ball back onto the field against Houston – was asked about the striker’s availability for this weekend’s clash against City:
— Sam Jones (@J_SamJones) May 25, 2017
What does this mean for NYCFC? Should Martinez get some time, it immediately creates a much different look for Atlanta than they saw in their previous meeting. Martinez of course feasted on weak defenses earlier in the season (ATL rained fire on a still-finding-their-footing Minnesota United (6-1), and blanked a Bastian Schweinsteiger-less Chicago Fire 4-0), scoring five goals in three matches. However, against the (begrudgingly) more formidable New York Red Bulls in the opener, Martinez was held goalless as his side lost 2-1.
The goal-scorer in that match? Yamil Asad – another player NYCFC dodged in the first match. Asad has made a somewhat infamous personality for himself, missing that first meeting due to a Disciplinary Committee Suspension for very blatantly going in for an elbow on DC United‘s Lloyd Sam:
That’s dirty. pic.twitter.com/PvI6yHa6j8
— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 30, 2017
Playing in only nine of Atlanta’s eleven matches, Asad leads the team in fouls committed with 15 – though he’s only been booked twice.
The Boys in Blue will have a different look, as well. The stabilizing presence in our midfield that was Yangel Herrera is leading the Venezuelan Under-20s to extraordinary success in South Korea, and in a game in which control of an aggressive midfield will be essential, that presence will surely be missed. Encouraging, however, was the play of Mikey Lopez in City’s 3-0 victory over Orlando last week. Lopez showed that he could do his job of disrupting the flow of an attack and not get too fancy with his forward movement. He tackled well (though he did get himself carded) and made simple, short, precise passes to the New York City playmakers in front of him. If he can turn in a similar performance against a much more difficult midfield in Atlanta, it will certainly spark some conversation about his role moving forward.
Ethan White is also listed as ‘Questionable’ in this week’s injury report, though he did participate in training this week. It is possible that RJ Allen gets some more minutes in relief, as he regained some footing in Orlando after his poor outing against RSL.
Also of note was the return to training of one of City’s own injury-absentees, Ronald Matarrita. Though it’s unlikely the Costa Rican will return to the 18 this week, should he defy the odds and make it into the squad, it will instantly provide another dynamic that Atlanta hasn’t encountered before. That said, Ben Sweat has filled in nicely at Left Back, providing a more stay-at-home style than that of Matarrita, and picking his spots to get forward without over-committing.
The last time these two clubs played each other, it delivered on the high-octane action it was billed for. This time around, we get new looks on both sides – even if it’s only slightly. The addition of Asad and the absence of Herrera create new challenges for each side. Who will come out on top?
Time: Sunday, May 28 @ 5pm EST
Broadcast: ESPN, WFAN (online)
NYCFC: OUT – Khiry Shelton (Hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Ronald Matarrita (high ankle sprain), Andrea Pirlo (knee), Ethan White (adductor)
AUFC: Jacob Peterson (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Josef Martinez (quad)
NYCFC (4-3-3): Johnson; Sweat, Chanot, Callens, White; Lopez, Moralez, Ring; Harrison, Villa, Wallace
AUFC (4-2-3-1): Kann; Garza, González-Pirez, Parkhurst, Mears; Larentowicz, Carmona; Asad, Almirón, Gressel; Villalba