Both teams lost by four goals and had key players sent off at a time where squad depth is at a premium. Now, the hotly contested match that usually takes place between these two clubs may be dampened purely due to lack of available players.
Atlanta traveled to Chicago in their Wednesday clash after a 2-1 win over the Impact just days before. The Fire demolished the Atlanta backline in the first half, scoring five unanswered in 44 minutes.
Chicago’s Nicolas Gaitan registered three assists in just over half an hour of play and added a penalty to boot. A consolation penalty was scored by Brandon Vazquez for Atlanta in the second half, but a 5-1 final accurately reflects how poor Atlanta was.
Defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was also sent off in the 11th minute, adding to Atlanta’s squad depth issues. With multiple players injured and only Josef Martinez returning to the line up, Atlanta could be looking at another long day on the pitch.
The Red Bulls had an equally poor Wednesday night performance. Four unanswered goals by the Houston Dynamo shut the Red Bulls down as winger Alberth Elis tore up the disheveled New York defense.
An experimental 4312 formation saw Tom Barlow and Brian White start up top together, but nothing came of the pairing. With Bradley Wright-Phillips still slowly recovering, the team can only hope the offense is revived in Atlanta.
Like Atlanta, the Red Bulls also had a key defender sent off in Michael Murillo. His lazy challenge earned him a second yellow card late in the second half, and just minutes later. Kaku was sent off for his clash with Maynor Figueroa.
Both players would have started against Atlanta, so Chris Armas now needs to figure out who will replace them. Kyle Duncan will likely slide over to the right side while it is a toss up on who will replace Kaku in the middle.
Cristian Casseres Jr. will likely start in the advanced role while Sean Davis and Marc Rzatkowski resume their normal positions in the middle. The Red Bulls are also lucky enough to get back two more bodies from the Gold Cup, as attacking threat Derrick Etienne and the ever energetic Kemar Lawrence return to action.
Lawrence is the biggest addition to the squad at the moment. He was pivotal in the last meeting with Atlanta and his presence alone will be a big boost for the team. Expect to hear a lot of jeering from Atlanta supporters every time Lawrence is on the ball following his demolition of Hector Villalba back in May.
Minus Kaku and Murillo, the Red Bulls will be heading into this match with the same selection they had against Atlanta last time out. As long as Tim Parker does not get sent off again, the team is arguably better than they were in the last meeting.
Atlanta has been in pretty solid form since the end of May, winning five of their last seven in all competitions, including two Open Cup victories in just five days. With just one loss all year at home, going down to Mercedes-Benz Stadium gives Atlanta a big advantage before the match even begins.
The two regular season matches the Red Bulls have played in Georgia resulted in big away wins, but the one that mattered in the 2018 playoffs will be forever burned in supporters’ minds.
Every trip down south is one fueled by passion and revenge. Sunday the 7th is shaping up to be one of the biggest days of football in years, with the final of the Women’s World Cup, Gold Cup, and Copa America all falling on this day.
With this match against Atlanta sandwiched between all that greatness, fans from all around the world will be tuning in to see one of the fastest growing rivalries in MLS. The two teams rarely disappoint from an entertainment standpoint, but Red Bulls supporters will be hoping for much more than just a good spectacle.