ATLANTA, GA – New York City FC will take their 6-match unbeaten streak back on the road. Atlanta United pose perhaps the most dangerous threat to City’s Eastern Conference supremacy, and certainly should be their most challenging opponent yet in the 2018 campaign. Let’s take a look at what we can expect Sunday night at 6pm EST:
While the they started off with a curious 4-0 loss to Houston, Tata Martino has righted the ship and the Five Stripes have not dropped a point since. The high-flying attack that made its debut in 2017 has remained true-to-form in their sophomore season, out scoring opponents 13-2 since that opening loss.
Leading the charge is of course Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez, who has tallied 5 goals on 9 shots. Atlanta fans had a small scare earlier this week as Martinez was removed from practice with an injury, but he was right back in the mix the following day sporting a cast on his hand. The club reports he will be good to go for Sunday night.
Another potential star may make his debut against City, as Ezequiel Barco has finally recovered from his offseason injury. Barco arrived in Atlanta from Independiente for an MLS-record $15 million. The young Argentinian can make plays centrally or on the wings, but his presence forces Martino to bench an effective piece of his 3-5-2 no matter who is dispaced.
Perhaps making the decision easier is the absence of Hector Villalba, who may miss Sunday’s match with discomfort in his leg. Villalba asked to be removed from Atlanta’s previous match against LAFC in the 59th minute, and has not trained at all this week. Martino believes Villalba will be a game time decision.
What to Watch For
The Unstoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object: While NYCFC has the most goals scored (14) and has allowed the second-fewest (4; FC Dallas has only allowed 3), Atlanta United is only one goal behind with one fewer match played. The Five Stripes’ 13 goals are the most scored by any NYCFC opponent to date. The back line containing Martinez, and the midfield not allowing Miguel Almiron to get comfortable will be imperative if NYCFC wants to remain unbeaten.
Stone Cold, No Mistakes: In earlier weeks, NYCFC has gotten away with a few bad giveaways in unfortunate positions just in front of the back line. The midfield (and the back line as well) can get complacent and lose focus from time to time. So far, City hasn’t been punished for these momentary lapses, but that will not be the case against Atlanta. They like to pounce, they thrive on shifting momentum quickly. Mistakes will be punished, so the Pigeons must remain focused for the full 90.
Make a Statement: Many have said that NYCFC owes their 6-match unbeaten run to soft opponents – a retooled Sporting KC, a Zlatan-less LA Galaxy, an injury-plagued Orlando City etc. – Atlanta United is one of the best teams in MLS by consensus. A victory in their building would put the rest of the league on notice: NYCFC will not be denied.