There was no way around this matchup. After two immensely exciting games during the regular season and a dogfight to the finish, Atlanta United meeting the New York Red Bulls in the Easter Conference finals just makes sense.
The Red Bulls have well and truly dominated this rivalry, winning three of the four matches with a 0-0 result wedged in there as well. The team seems to kick it into another gear when playing Atlanta, and it is fascinating to watch.
In all three of the wins, Daniel Royer has been on the scoresheet for the Red Bulls. Two of them were penalties, but scoring against Atlanta in any fashion is an accomplishment in of itself.
Royer has rekindled his form at the perfect time in the MLS playoffs. His explosive brace against the Columbus Crew last match solidified the Red Bulls spot in the next round, ultimately giving them the 3-1 win on aggregate.
His involvement in the attack was night and day compared to the first leg in Columbus. Royer was meerley a specktator that day and really offered little for his team.
With Royer scoring again, the recent criticism has really been thrown on superstar Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Englishman has not scored for the club since October 6th, but his inclusion in the team should be the last to be questioned.
Wright-Phillips is pulling an Olivier Giroud of France during the 2018 World Cup. Giroud did not score a single goal for his country, yet his involvement in the team was crucial to their success.
The hold up play alone that Wright-Phillips provides for the Red Bulls make him so dangerous for the opposition. He can receive the ball with his back to goal and create chances, just as Giroud did for France.
BWP also draws fouls that put his team in good situations. He drew five just last match against the Crew while also winning four aerial duels. Stats are not everything in the football world, and the criticism Wright-Phillips is receiving is unjustified.
Atlanta always seem to have a tough time dealing with attacking trios, which could have prompted their switch to a wingback formation last match against NYCFC. The 352 formation would shift into a 532 when in defense, making NYCFC’s life very difficult on the day.
Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez had a brace in the 3-1 win over NYCFC, but he has historically struggled against the Red Bulls. He has never scored against the Red Bulls and has registered just one shot on target in the last 243 minutes.
This is mainly due to Tim Parker and Aaron Long shutting down any service that Martinez gets. The game in Atlanta will be a true test of the defensive fortitude of the Red Bulls.
Both matches played in Atlanta have been won by the Red Bulls, with a 2-1 and 3-1 win the past two visits. Carrying any amount of away goals back to Red Bull Arena would be incredible for Chris Armas and his team.
The Red Bulls need to come out with much more intensity in this first leg. The first match against Columbus lacked intent and ultimately cost the Red Bulls. Getting at least a draw in Atlanta would really set up the team well for their return leg at Red Bull Arena.
Set pieces will be a key area to focus on for the Red Bulls heading into this match. The set piece that netted them their first goal against Columbus jolted the entire team into action.
With Atlanta’s team in a bit of an injury rut, the Red Bulls could see another Atlanta dominance in the first leg. Armas knows he cannot be cautious, so expect nothing less than the Red Bulls best for this tantalizing matchup.