Atlanta United return home on Sunday to face New York City FC for the second leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. With a 1-0 lead, here are three key players to watch.
Atlanta United beat New York City FC 1-0 last weekend in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. With that 1-0 lead, they return home to play in front of their home supporters in the deciding match for who advances to the Conference Final.
The Five Stripes have a huge advantage after scoring an away goal at Yankee Stadium. The team only needs a draw or win to advance to the next round. Keeping a clean sheet against the Cityzens also helped the situation as well.
Atlanta changed their approach for the first leg. They spent less time building out of the back and didn’t push up the field as much as they’re used to. Their approach was more or less the most defensive approach of the season and it paid off. Now that the teams will be playing at Mercedes Benz Stadium, where the field is considerably larger than Yankee Stadium, Atlanta can spread things out and play a much different style compared to the first leg.
With that in mind, here are three players to watch during the return leg this weekend.
3. Miguel Almiron
After suffering an injury against Real Salt Lake on September 22, Miguel Almiron made his way back to the pitch last weekend in the first leg at Yankee Stadium. Almiron was on a minutes restriction though, so he only played the first half before subbing off at halftime. As he continues to gain fitness we should see more of the Paraguayan this weekend.
So how will Tata Martino use Almiron? Last weekend he used Almiron to set the tone and pace of the game early on, and it paid off. Atlanta scored a goal in the first half and nearly scored two more. That success was an effect of Almiron’s presence on the pitch.
With a 1-0 aggregate lead, Martino can pretty much do whatever he wants in regard to playing Almiron. He can start Almiron again, set the tone again, and push out to an early lead and sub him off when the game feels secure. Or, Martino can start Almiron on the bench and bring him in as a super sub to kill or win the game.
Almiron can also play the entire 90 minutes. It would be somewhat risky, considering it’s been under two months since suffering the hamstring injury. Or it could be the smartest move possible. With the horribly timed international break occurring between Sunday and the Eastern Conference final, Almiron could go 90 this weekend and have plenty of time to gain fitness for the conference final should Atlanta advance.
Either way, Almiron will see the pitch on Sunday and he will impact the game positively for Atlanta, just as he has all season. It’s the biggest reason he’s a finalist for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP award.