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MLS Eastern Conference Final Preview: Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls


The two best teams in Major League Soccer begin what is expected to be a fierce two-legged series on Sunday inside the raucous environment at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Although Atlanta United is viewed as one of the most dominant teams over the last two years, the Five Stripes have struggled with the New York Red Bulls in four total meetings.

Not only will a place in MLS Cup on December 8 be on the line in the Eastern Conference Final, the right to host the final is up for grabs since the Red Bulls and Five Stripes finished first and second in the Supporters’ Shield standings.

Below is an in-depth look at what to expect for Sunday’s first leg in Atlanta.

Season Series

The Red Bulls outscored Atlanta 5-1 in two meetings this season, with the second matchup on September 30 being the statement victory, as Chris Armas outclassed Gerardo “Tata” Martino in the tactics department.

What was even more impressive about the victory at Red Bull Arena was the Red Bulls came out on top without Tyler Adams and Bradley Wright-Phillips in the starting lineup.

Players to Watch

Atlanta United: Miguel Almiron

The highly-sought after Miguel Almiron might be playing his final few games in an Atlanta shirt with interest starting to come out of Europe for the Five Stripes midfield playmaker.

In his two seasons in Atlanta, Almiron’s contributed 21 goals and 28 assists, and although Josef Martinez is important to the club in front of goal, the Paraguayan is the player who ties the whole team together.

Almiron has the unenviable task of breaking down the defensive wall put up by the relentless pairing of Tyler Adams and Sean Davis, but if he can get past New York’s defensive midfield duo on a few occasions, he’ll be able to set up quality chances inside the penalty area.

New York Red Bulls: Kaku

The other Paraguayan No. 10 involved in the Eastern Conference Final will be just as important to his team.

Much like Almiron, Kaku is the driving force of the Red Bulls attack, as he links up play between Adams and Davis and Wright-Phillips between the center circle and the penalty area.

Kaku dished out 14 assists in his first full season in MLS, and he’s recorded one in the postseason to date.

If the 23-year-old is able to link up with Wright-Phillips and find a valuable away goal, the Red Bulls will end up as the favored side entering Thursday’s second leg.

Matchup to Watch

Josef Martinez vs. Tim Parker and Aaron Long 

In all honesty, every matchup on the field between the Red Bulls and Five Stripes is worth watching, but you can’t ignore the showdown between the MLS Golden Boot winner and the best defensive duo in the league.

Although Martinez scored 31 goals in the regular season, his goal-scoring pace significantly slowed in September and October, as he scored three times in eight games.

The Venezuelan improved his scoring rate with two goals against New York City FC, but he’ll find chances hard to come by against the physical American pair of Parker and Long.

What could separate Martinez from the MLS Defender of the Year and the physical force that is Parker are his cheeky runs in between defenders, which could open up the slightest bit of space for an opportunity to beat Luis Robles.


Atlanta United: Eric Remedi

Atlanta United has X-factors littered across its starting lineup, but Eric Remedi’s emerged as the top player who fits that bill throughout the postseason.

The 23-year-old Remedi contributed a goal and an assist versus NYCFC and he fills a valuable role in the middle of the field where he could expose the Red Bulls midfield as the focus shifts toward the playmaking ability of Almiron, Martinez and Darlington Nagbe.

In the second leg victory over NYCFC, Remedi was one of Atlanta’s most accurate passers, as he completed 88.9 percent of his 27 passes, and he dug in defensively with four tackles.

If he turns in a similar performance, the Argentinian will make valuable contributions to the attack and clog up the passing lanes for Kaku and Co. to invade.

New York Red Bulls: Alex Muyl

If you look up and down the Red Bulls roster, the one potential weakness comes on the wings.

Fresh off adding a goal and an assist against the Columbus Crew, Alex Muyl needs to provide an extra element to the Red Bulls attack to make the offensive approach more balanced with Daniel Royer, Kaku and Wright-Phillips going at the Atlanta defense from all angles.

The 23-year-old Homegrown midfielder needs to open up the Atlanta fullbacks in order to allow Kaku and Wright-Phillips to go one-on-one with Atlanta’s center backs in an attempt to steal an away goal from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.


The two teams remaining in the Eastern Conference are evenly matched on paper, but the Red Bulls have proven they’re the dominant team on the field in their meetings with the Five Stripes.

Armas delivered a tactical masterpiece in the September meeting at home that ended up helping the Red Bulls clinch the Shield.

However, Martino has had two weeks to revisit the tape from the loss at Red Bull Arena and make the necessary adjustments to get out to a commanding first-leg lead.

Atlanta was 11-2-4 at home, but they struggled to create an advantage against teams that qualified for the playoffs, while the Red Bulls boast an 8-5-4 record on their travels.

Exploiting the smallest of weaknesses will help either side progress to the second leg with a lead, and that could come on the wings for each team.

It wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see the Red Bulls sit back a bit in the first half to avoid the concession of an early goal, and that’s possible because of the machine Adams is in covering territory and breaking up plays in midfield.

However, fatigue could be a factor for Adams, Long, Almiron. Kaku and Martinez. All five of them participated in international friendlies across the globe on Tuesday.

Adams and Long played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in Belgium against Italy, Kaku and Almiron had to travel to South Africa to play for Paraguay, while Martinez went 74 minutes in Qatar for Venezuela.

But the real reason why the East final will be tight heading into the second leg could be two of the most experienced players on the field.

Robles and Brad Guzan are two of the best goalkeepers in the league, and it’ll take a terrific individual effort in the final third from the talented attackers on each end to make a difference on Sunday night.


  1. I think that general consensus seems to be that NYRB are the better team, but Atlanta is so explosive and so good at home. This could get away from NY is they aren’t careful and if it does, leg two could get ugly really quickly.


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