Laying out the case for and against playing the New York Red Bulls in the conference final, from an Atlanta United fan’s perspective.
“That was a beautiful goal…”
“NYRB up 2-0 now”
“They just scored again”
These are the texts I received on my way home from the Atlanta United match on Sunday evening. I was unable to watch most of the other Eastern Conference semi-final match between the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew, so I was receiving a few updates from friends.
After the Atlanta game ended, Mercedes Benz Stadium officials showed the Red Bulls match on the stadium’s beautiful halo board. My friends and I decided to stay to avoid some post-game traffic. New York went up 1-0 very early, but the game seemed calm after that opening goal and we decided to head home. Every time I checked the score on my phone, the score remained 1-0.
At 9:22 PM, my phone began to blow up from friends and family updating the status of the game. Of course, New York won the match 3-0, winning the series 3-1 on aggregate. After some time to think about the impending conference final against NYRB, I’ve come to the realization that I have some very mixed emotions about the prospect of facing the Red Bulls a third and fourth time this season.
The Case For
This year’s edition of the New York Red Bulls is the best regular season team MLS has ever seen. They hold the record for points in a season and wins in a season with 71 and 22 respectively. With that being said, it seems only fair that Atlanta must face them for a shot at the MLS Cup. Who wouldn’t want to beat the best team in the league en route to a trophy?
Atlanta is also winless against the Red Bulls in four matches across two regular seasons. The aggregate score through four matches is 7-2. If I am an Atlanta player, I am begging to play New York.
We cannnot forget about handshake-gate either. Tata Martino will give opposing coaches praise when deserved (Gregg Berhalter, Patrick Viera) and will scold them all the same. There is a reason he denied Red Bulls manager Chris Armas a handshake at the end of their most recent match.
To top it all off, this series is basically a rivalry at this point. It is one-sided, but it’s still a series that will have intensity among players and an overall air of respect. These two teams are the top seeds in the Eastern Conference for a reason. Atlanta should be excited to play New York for the chance at the MLS Cup Final (and the opportunity to host it).
The Case Against
Did I mention that Atlanta is winless against Red Bulls? And that the aggregate score across four matches is 7-2? And that they are statistically the best team in MLS history?
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Yeah, so this is definitely not a good team to see standing in Atlanta’s way on the way to a trophy. They already stole the Supporters’ Shield from Atlanta at the end of the season. And New York embarrassed the Five Stripes in the process too, with a 2-0 shellacking at the end of September on national TV.
That aggregate score is wide for a reason. As much as the supporters love Tata, he sure seems stubborn at times. His refusal to change his tactics against New York’s high press have created failure through those four matches. If he cannot change his ways, then playing against the Red Bulls seems like an awful proposition.
Oh yeah, and Atlanta has to win this thing on the road, in a stadium they have never scored a goal before. On a Thursday night. In front of probably no one (you know there’s going to be traffic on a Thursday night in New Jersey). If Atlanta was facing Columbus instead, they would have the opportunity to clinch the series in front of their home fans.
Regardless of how supporters feel about facing the club’s bogeyman yet again, it’s going to happen. All we can hope for is a strong showing from the Five Stripes and a shot at the MLS Cup Final.