Atlanta United travel to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Here are five key players to watch.
With New York City FC’s win over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night, the stage is set for the Eastern Conference semi-finals: Atlanta United will travel to the Bronx this Sunday to take on the Cityzens before a return leg in Atlanta the following week. NYCFC are winners of two straight while Atlanta are coming off one of their worst losses this season.
The all-time numbers in the team series paint an interesting picture. Through four games, Atlanta and NYCFC each have one win, one loss, and two draws. The all-time score is 7-7, with each win coming from the respective home team last season and both draws occurring this season. This series is also on the verge of being a rivalry, as noted here.
Interesting notes before this Sunday’s first leg: NYCFC are winners of two straight, but both wins came against Philadelphia Union. Before those wins, New York had just two wins since August began (11 game span). All four games between these clubs have been played under the management of Tata Martino and Patrick Viera. The 1-1 draw between these teams in June was Viera’s last game with NYCFC before leaving to manage in Ligue 1.
Without further ado, here are five players to watch this weekend.
5. Miguel Almiron
All eyes will be on the Paraguayan playmaker. Miguel Almiron went down with a hamstring injury at the beginning of September in a 2-1 win over New England Revolution, and he made his return to training this week. Will he start against NYCFC? Will he even see the pitch? What impact will he have?
I want to say that Almiron will start on Sunday because of his heavy influence over the team. Without Almiron on the pitch, the Five Stripes lack speed and creativity. However, I think Martino will be hesitant to start Almiron. It is a safe bet that Almiron will start on the bench and then see some game action for the final 30 or so minutes of the match.
Almiron’s impact will be felt the second he hits the field. Whether or not he starts, as long as he plays even a minute, you will see a different and rejuvenated Atlanta United. In the last two and a half games without Almiron, the team looked slow and unorganized. That will change once Miggy is back on the field.
Ideally, the team won’t need Almiron for this first match and they can stymie NYCFC’s attack and maybe score a goal of their own. An away goal without Almiron would be huge, as would a win or draw. The more rest for Almiron, the better. If Atlanta makes a deep run into the playoffs, they will need as much of Almiron as they can get.
UPDATE: In an interview with local radio station 92.9 The Game, Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra stated that Miguel Almiron will be available in New York but will be on a minutes requirement.