Atlanta United lead 3-0 heading into Thursday night’s second leg of the Eastern Conference Championships versus the New York Red Bulls. See which three players are key to watch as Atlanta tries to conquer the Red Bulls.
Atlanta United are sitting pretty with a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. The only thing standing in their way? A hungry New York Red Bulls team that is looking for its first MLS Cup Final appearance since 2008.
While the three-goal advantage is certainly comforting, it’s not impossible for New York to overcome. In fact, in their last home playoff game against Columbus Crew on November 11, the Red Bulls won 3-0. If they score three goals again this Thursday and hold Atlanta scoreless, which is a possibility, the series would continue into extra time and possibly a penalty shootout.
For the time being, Atlanta can prepare in comfort knowing they finally defeated a Red Bulls team that has constantly belittled the Five Stripes on the field with their suffocating play. However, it was a lacking Red Bulls performance in the first leg. Atlanta must expect a different type of Red Bulls team this Thursday. As a result, there will be a couple of important players to keep an eye on.
See which three players to watch as Atlanta faces New York at Red Bull Arena this Thursday night.
3. Miguel Almiron
As Miguel Almiron goes, so too does Atlanta United. Almiron is the engine in a well-oiled machine, and if Red Bulls take him out of the game, Atlanta may have a tough time closing out the series.
Almiron put in an important 45-minute shift in Atlanta’s first playoff game against New York City FC on the road. He followed that performance up with an extremely strong showing in the return leg that featured a curling freekick. Against the Red Bulls on Sunday night, Almiron had another strong performance, albeit a somewhat quiet one.
The Paraguayan international didn’t score a goal this time, but he did have two key passes in the first half and notched a secondary assist on Franco Escobar’s 71st minute strike. Almiron also played another important role in that match: he sprung nearly every attack and counter-attack.
The Five Stripes will need more of that on Thursday night. Although Atlanta is likely to approach the game defensively, the squad has enough speed and talent to successfully counter-attack if the opportunity presents itself. If the opportunity does come, Almiron will certainly be at the center of it. Even if Atlanta doesn’t score on Thursday night, look for Almiron to help on the defensive side of things.
For all the attention paid to his technical skill, pace, and passing, Almiron is just as solid defensively. Because Atlanta must protect their lead at all costs, he is going to a play a part in that during the return leg. Almiron is always a player to watch, but this time, it might not be for the reason everyone expects.