Atlanta United travel to Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls in the de facto Supporters’ Shield showdown. Here are five key players to watch.
One of the biggest matches of the 2018 MLS season takes place this Sunday afternoon. First-place Atlanta United are traveling to Harrison, New Jersey, to face second-place, the New York Red Bulls. This match will effectively decide who wins this year’s Supporters’ Shield. Atlanta have 63 points, four ahead of New York, who have 59 points. An Atlanta win would all but secure the club’s first piece of silverware, while a New York win would make the last three weeks of the season extremely interesting.
Atlanta are coming off a big week that saw three wins and nine points, while the Red Bulls are coming off a somewhat disappointing week. New York won their Saturday match against Toronto FC, but saw their star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips booked on a yellow card. That yellow is going to hold Wright-Phillips out of this weekend’s match. Although it is a significant blow, New York is a squad with significant depth and talent. It should be able to overcome the loss of their leading scorer.
Atlanta is breathing a small sigh of relief to see Wright-Phillips missing this weekend. The Englishman has tormented Atlanta in its brief history, scoring three goals in three matches. These teams met back in May, when Wright-Phillips notched a brace in a 3-1 win that saw Atlanta become frustrated and self-destruct in the process.
Nevertheless, there will still be 22 players on the pitch come Sunday afternoon. So, here are five key players to watch ahead of the critical contest.
5. Josef Martinez
The league’s leading scorer, and holder of many records, is in a little bit of a “slump”. Josef Martinez’s 30 goals lead the league by a large margin, with Wright-Phillips 11 goals behind him. However, Martinez only has two goals in Atlanta’s last four matches. This compares to the four matches prior, which saw six goals from the Venezuelan international.
Since joining the league at the beginning of last season, Martinez has scored an astonishing 49 goals in 50 games. Unfortunately, none of those goals have come against the Red Bulls through three matches. If Atlanta is going to be successful this weekend, they are going to need their goal-hungry striker to find the back of the net once again.
Martinez can score against New York, despite Red Bulls’ objective of keeping a clean sheet. New York’s defense is good, anchored by Aaron Long and Tim Parker. Long and Parker have formed a formidable duo in the backline. It will be up to Martinez to exploit their partnership and find the back of the net. Ideally, Martinez should work toward scoring multiple goals. When he does, Atlanta is 5-1-0 on the season.