Atlanta United got a big scare in training leading up to Sunday’s top-of-the-table showdown with unbeaten New York City FC at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
United star striker Josef Martinez went down Wednesday after colliding with a teammate during drills and injuring his left hand. Martinez, who is tied for the MLS lead with five goals, returned to training Thursday with a brace on his hand but is expected to play Sunday. Atlanta will need him against a high-powered NYCFC squad that has outscored opponents 14-4 this season.
After drubbing Real Salt Lake 4-0 on Wednesday, NYCFC (5-0-1) arrive in Atlanta as the only unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference. They lead MLS in goals scored (14) and goal differential (10). And their top weapon, David Villa, is returning to full strength. Villa, who has been limited by a quad injury for the past two weeks, is expected to be back in the starting lineup against Atlanta. He came off the bench to play 31 minutes in the win over Real Salt Lake.
United (4-1-0) also are coming off an impressive win. Atlanta blanked Los Angeles FC 5-0 last week at home, the team’s fourth straight win.
“Strong team,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said of Atlanta. “It’s going be really tough and really difficult. Now our preparation will not be different from our first game of the season. We’re going to be preparing ourselves, we do our homework, we are going to go there with humility and try to give our best.”
NYCFC is in first place on the Eastern Conference table. Atlanta is in second place. The two teams split their two meetings last season, with each team winning on their own pitch. Atlanta has outscored its three opponents 12-2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.
“For sure we’ll be up for it because they’re one of the best teams in the league,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst told the team’s website. “Right now they’re right at the top and they have been for the last few years, so we definitely know it will be a challenging game.”
—Field Level Media