19 down, 15 to go. Atlanta United is a little past the halfway point, and the team is currently sitting pretty at 4th place in the Eastern Conference with 30 points and a 9-7-3 record. The Five Stripes have 3 matches upcoming against our southern neighbors, Orlando City SC. Orlando is currently just a single point behind us on the table, but we have a game in hand. Atlanta is 8 points below the Supporters’ Shield-leading Chicago Fire, a club who has enjoyed much success through the addition of German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger and the excellent play of the league’s top scorer, Nemanja Nikolić. Atlanta won’t play Chicago again this season.
With the team playing well, it’s safe to say that Five Stripes supporters are expecting Atlanta United to be the first MLS team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season since Seattle Sounders managed the feat in 2009. The team has gotten better as the season has progressed, and if not for the loss of Josef Martinez for a grueling stretch of 10 matches, Atlanta United FC could easily be the name of the first or second-place team in the standings right now.
For me personally, I don’t see how the team could not make the playoffs. The team’s 3 games against Orlando should not be all that difficult. Orlando is falling flat lately, and their backline lacks the speed to contain Atlanta United’s forwards. I’m expecting a minimum of 6 points from those 3 matches. Elsewhere in the schedule, matchups aren’t much more difficult. There’s one more meeting with fellow expansion side Minnesota United, a club that the Five Stripes whacked 6-1 in the middle of a Minnesota snowstorm on March 12th. This next match will be October 3rd, at home.
There are also two matches each against Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution. With those clubs sitting 8th and 10th, respectively, in the Eastern Conference standings, they shouldn’t pose much trouble. There’s even a game left against DC United. DC has been Atlanta United’s kryptonite this season, but they also sit in last place with a lowly 18 points. A third of those points come from Atlanta. Perhaps the third time will be the charm?
The only truly difficult matches left are an August 6th visit to Sporting Kansas City and the final game of the season where Atlanta United FC will host a very competent Toronto FC side at Mercedes Benz Stadium on October 22nd. Luckily, Dirty South Soccer has reported that the entire stadium will be open for that finale of a matchup, and I would imagine that even Giovinco and his cronies will have trouble withstanding an atmosphere of 75000 raucous Five Stripes faithful.
With all that being said… keep your heads up, ATLUTD supporters! The Five Stripes will end this year with a fine first season. I’m personally expecting a third place conference finish, a playoff berth, and an early MLS Cup exit, but who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Edit: For what it’s worth, I also expect Gressel to win Rookie of the Year, but he is going to have to at least maintain his current production in order to do so. I’m excited to see what more he has in him.
Atlanta United’s full schedule can be found here: https://www.atlutd.com/schedule