In what could be a first-round playoff matchup, a near full-strength Atlanta United squad look to enter the postseason on a positive note Sunday when it hosts the New England Revolution.
The reigning MLS Cup champion Five Stripes (17-12-4) need to at least match the result of the Philadelphia Union to clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta has played the last two matches without injured leading scorer Josef Martinez and it has showed, totaling two goals while taking one point from road matches versus New York City FC and Montreal.
Atlanta was held to a 1-1 draw last Sunday by the Impact, with Julian Gressel’s 53rd-minute goal canceled out by Bojan Krkic’s equalizer in the 81st minute. In addition to Martinez being absent, coach Frank de Boer had manpower shortages across the pitch as midfielder Eric Remedi and defender Mo Adams both served yellow card suspensions.
Remedi and Adams will be available for this match, but Martinez’s status is uncertain. The Venezuela international suffered knee and ankle injuries in Atlanta’s 3-1 victory over San Jose on Sept. 21 and returned to this practice this week, lifting hopes the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner and 26-goal scorer will see some match action ahead of the playoffs.
“It’s great to see him out there,” midfielder Emerson Hyndman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Obviously he’s a big loss to the team with the amount of goals he’s scored for us and just the impact that he brings to our team. It’s great to see him back out.”
Defender Michael Parkhurst, who wore the captain’s armband last weekend in Montreal, is also expected to play at some point in the final regular-season game of his career. It would not be surprising to see de Boer give Ezequiel Barco a start to get the Argentine midfielder closer to fully match-fit after an extended absence due to injury.
New England (11-10-12) will enter the playoffs as either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the East, having successfully overcome a dreadful 2-8-2 start following the arrival of Bruce Arena. The Revolution need to win and have Toronto FC lose to Columbus to claim the sixth spot, but their current form offers optimism they do not need a specific matchup to make a postseason run.
They improved to 9-2-10 in their last 21 matches and are unbeaten in the last four (1-0-3) after defeating East-leading NYCFC 2-0 last Sunday to clinch a playoff spot. Teal Bunbury and Gustavo Bou scored second-half goals for New England while Matt Turner made six saves for his second consecutive shutout.
“I think it (was) a good way to sum things up at home,” defender Jalil Anibaba told the club’s official website. “I think it does show the fruits of our efforts and hard work, but it’s only put us in a position to do what we want to do, so we’re obviously aware of what’s at stake moving forward. That’s going to be more important than anything we’ve done in the past so far.”
New England’s turnaround picked up steam when Bou was signed before the close of the summer transfer window, with the Argentine striker totaling nine goals and two assists in 13 matches. He formed a quick partnership with fellow Designated Player Carles Gil, one of just four MLS players this season to reach double figures in goals (10) and assists (14).
Atlanta has never lost to New England since entering MLS in 2017, winning three matches and drawing the other two. The Revs have been outscored 9-1 in their two losses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and dropped the reverse encounter this season 2-0 on April 13 as Barco had a brace on either side of halftime.