Atlanta United trails the first-place New York Red Bulls by one point in the Eastern Conference standings and also in its quest to win the Supporters’ Shield heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
The Five Stripes (16-5-6, 54 points) can leapfrog the Red Bulls (17-7-4, 55 points) — who travel to surging D.C. United on Sunday — in the standings for at least one day at least with a victory over the Rapids (6-15-6, 24 points), who have been shut out in their last three games by a total of 10-0.
Atlanta United still has one game in hand on the Red Bulls and the schedule would seem to favor the Five Stripes, who have back-to-back road games against Western Conference bottom-feeders Colorado and San Jose (4-15-8, 20 points). Atlanta also still has a head-to-head showdown with New York at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 30 among its final seven contests.
First up are the two road games with the Rapids and Earthquakes who combined have 10 less points and six less wins than the Five Stripes.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, they’re all must-win games,” Atlanta goalie Brad Guzan told MLSsoccer.com. “They all have that feel to it because of where we are (in the table). When you’re fighting for something real, games become that much more important.”
Colorado, which has managed draws with Western Conference leaders FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City earlier this season, is 5-6-3 at home and was on a 2-0-1 stretch before a pair of competitive 2-0 road losses at Los Angeles FC and Portland sandwiched around a 6-0 home defeat to Real Salt Lake. That contest got out of hand after the Rapids picked up a pair of red cards in the first half and played the majority of the game down two men.
“The mood is very good,” Colorado coach Anthony Hudson said. “We have a good group. ... (Atlanta United) are a good team but we are at home. Certainly, this is probably the biggest team we’ve faced at home. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Atlanta United is led by striker Josef Martinez, who already has scored a MLS single-season record 28 goals. The two teams have just met once in their history with Martinez scoring in the 67th minute to give the Five Stripes a 1-0 victory last June at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus.
—Field Level Media