The New York Red Bulls take on Atlanta United on Sunday in what could be their most important game of the season. What should fans expect to see?
The New York Red Bulls currently sit on 59 points, good for second in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Atlanta United sit atop the standings with 63 points. Atlanta can take a stranglehold of the top spot in the race for the Supporters’ Shield with a win in Harrison on Sunday.
The most pressing issue for the Red Bulls is certainly who is going to step up and assume the goal-scoring role in Bradley Wright-Phillips’ absence. Wright-Phillips picked up a yellow card late in the team’s last game against Toronto F.C. after being upset that a call was not made when he felt he was being held along the sideline.
After Wright-Phillips’ 19 goals, the next highest scorer for the Red Bulls is Daniel Royer with 10. After that, the next highest scorer is Kaku with five. It is a concern.
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With BWP’s absence up-top, Kaku’s performance becomes all the more important. In what should be a wide open game filled with counter-attacks and high pressing, the pressure might fall on the Paraguayan international to unlock Atlanta’s defense. Kaku broke the deadlock in New York’s last game and might be called upon again to provide another big moment.
New York picked up a much-needed win on Saturday night against Toronto heading into such a pivotal game against Atlanta. The Red Bulls opened up September with a sluggish 3-0 performance in Montreal, and then the thrilling 3-3 draw against D.C. United.
On the other hand, Atlanta United will stroll into Harrison riding a three-game winning streak. Atlanta cleaned up on their west coast road trip with a 3-0 win over Colorado, a 4-3 win over San Jose and, most recently, a 2-0 win at Real Salt Lake. Hector Villaba scored in all three of Atlanta’s victories, while Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron also chipped in two each.
New York has picked up 37 points out of a possible 45 at Red Bull Arena this season. But Atlanta’s road record has been even more impressive. The Five Stripes have picked up 34 points away from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2018. That is staggering.
In the three matches between these two teams, there has only been one scoreless draw. The other two games in the series history have gone in favor of the Red Bulls, with a 2-1 win last season and a 3-1 win earlier this season. Interestingly enough, the only scoreless draw came at Red Bull Arena.
Despite BWP’s absence, the Red Bulls should be able to deal with it with the amount of talent they have on the wings with Daniel Royer, Marc Rzatkowski and Derrick Etienne Jr.
The key for the Red Bulls will be the heart of the midfield and backline. The communication between Tyler Adams and Sean Davis with their center-backs will be vital in controlling Atlanta’s dangerous attack.
The two defensive midfielders, in addition to the center-backs, which should be Tim Parker and Aaron Long, will need to keep the space in between them to an absolute minimum. Miguel Almiron has shown through his time in the league that he doesn’t need much space to unlock an opponent’s defense. An invitation does not need to be offered to him.
If the Red Bulls can control the space provided to Atlanta’s playmakers, and primarily Almiron, the talent they have up front, even without BWP, should be enough to see them get a positive result at home. But if Atlanta are allowed to dictate the midfield, it could be a very long 90 minutes indeed.
The Supporters’ Shield is on the line. What a game to decide it.