This is it. The biggest match of the season for the New York Red Bulls on their quest to the Supporters Shield. Atlanta United will visit Red Bull Arena riding a three match winning streak as both teams fight for a massive three points.
With three matches remaining after this matchup, this is simply a must win for the Red Bulls. They currently sit four points behind Atlanta in the Supporters Shield race, so a win by Gerardo Martino’s side would all but guarantee them the title.
Atlanta has been nothing short of spectacular for the past two months. A slip up against a red hot DC United on September 2nd has been their only loss in MLS since July 4th.
Josef Martinez has continued to demolish any team in his path to the golden boot, scoring a fairytale amount of goals this season. His 30 goals in 30 matches is something out of a video game, with the Venezuelan scoring for fun week in and week out.
Martinez has been the clear MVP of the team, but he has been helped immensely by Julian Gressel and Miguel Almiron. The two have combined for a staggering 28 assists on the season, with Martinez being the beneficiary.
The reason the Red Bulls and Atlanta matchups are always so entertaining comes down to their gameplans. Both teams are lethal on the counter and look to exploit minute openings in their opponents defense.
Their last meeting came all the way back in May, with Atlanta hoping to forget the result. A 3-1 win by the Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw Bradley Wright-Phillips bag a brace with Daniel Royer’s first half penalty sparking the team back to life.
Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, BWP will be unavailable for this match. This is a problem that is being slightly blown out of proportion by some fans of the game simply because of his scoring record this season.
Chris Armas knows Wright-Phillips is a key to this team. He also knows that he can get the best out of his other attacking players and still have the same devastating offense that teams in this league fear.
Derrick Etienne will be riding the high of scoring his first goal since May in the Red Bulls 2-0 win over Toronto FC last week. The Haitian will be the obvious replacement for BWP as Royer and Kaku continue to influence the attack.
Apart from the absence of BWP, the Red Bulls should field a nearly identical lineup to the one they put on the field against Toronto. The forward flowing influences of Michael Murillo and Kemar Lawrence from the fullback positions will aid in the attack for New York as well, so the team should be fine going forward.
Luis Robles also deserves recognition for his performance against Toronto. He came up with four solid saves as he recorded yet another clean sheet on the season, bumping his total up to 11.
Ryan Meara was the starter the last time the Red Bulls played Atlanta as Robles was still recovering from injury. Meara had one of his best performances of his career in a Red Bulls kit that night, so Robles will have some big shoes to fill in that regard.
This match means so much more than three points to either side. The rivalry that has stemmed from their past matches is growing each time they meet. The Red Bulls have yet to lose to Atlanta, winning two and drawing one.
Atlanta will know that a win will put them in a golden position for the Supporters Shield. They will play their usual smash mouth football and look to exploit the Red Bulls with any chance they can get.
This is Armas’ biggest test this season. Getting his tactics spot on will be the only way for the Red Bulls to succeed in this monumental matchup. A full 90 minute fight will require perfection from all eleven men on the field, and Armas has proven he can get that from his men.