Eastern Conference Finals First Leg Preview: Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls

It’s a clash of the titans as the top two teams in the league fight for the Eastern Conference Championship. Two weeks ago, Atlanta comfortably dispatched New York City, winning both legs with a 4-1 aggregate scoreline. The Red Bulls had a tougher time as they had to fight back from a first-leg loss against Columbus Crew, and they ultimately did so in emphatic fashion, reminding the league why they are the Supporter’s Shield Champions. Many are speculating this could be the best playoff series in MLS history. Never before have there been two teams as dominant as Atlanta and New York were this season. Fans from all across the league have been anticipating this matchup all year long.

For the entire Jesse Marsch era, the Red Bulls struggled in playoff games. In recent history, the Red Bulls have been unable to break down a bunker, and unable to score once the opposing defense keys in on Bradley Wright-Phillips. Chris Armas appears to have bucked that trend. In the second leg against Columbus, Bradley Wright-Phillips was once again unable to find the net. However, flawless set-piece execution, along with an extraordinary performance from Daniel Royer ensured the Red Bulls would not fall as they have in years past. They appear to have found their secondary goal-scorer in Royer. In addition, New York’s crisp passing between the lines on Royer’s go-ahead goal proved they have the tools to unlock a packed defense.

Meanwhile, Atlanta have made a late-season tactical alteration, which appears designed to beat the Red Bulls. Over the two years of their existence, Atlanta has been known for their use of possession along with their speed in transition. Tata Martino has now instructed his team to defend and counter, weaponizing the speed of Almirón and Martinez to its full extent. In the second leg victory against New York City, Atlanta had just 30% possession. In years past, this tactical strategy has proven the Achilles heel of the Red Bulls. Atlanta are hoping to exploit this weakness.

During the season, the Red Bulls dominated Atlanta, winning 3-1 in Atlanta and 2-0 at home. Atlanta were never able to match the energy of the Red Bulls. The playoff series between the sides will almost certainly be much closer. Both teams are looking to head into the second leg at Red Bull Arena with the advantage Only one team will advance to host MLS Cup.

Match Information

Date: Sunday, November 25, 2018

Kick-off: 17:00 (ET) | 22:00 (GMT)

Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity: 72,243)

Referee: Kevin Stott

Broadcasting: ESPN (USA) | TSN2 (Canada)

Previous Meetings

03.05.17: Atlanta United 1-2 New York Red Bulls

10.15.17: New York Red Bulls 0-0 Atlanta United

05.20.18: Atlanta United 1-3 New York Red Bulls 

09.30.18: New York Red Bulls 2-0 Atlanta United

Current Form

Atlanta United

New England Revolution 2-1 (H) | Chicago Fire 2-1 (H) | Toronto 4-1 (A) | New York City 0-1 (A) | New York City 3-1 (H)

New York Red Bulls

San Jose Earthquakes 1-3 (A) | Philadelphia Union 0-1 (A) | Orlando City 1-0 (H) | Columbus Crew 3-0 (H)

Team News

Atlanta United

Injured: Sal Zizzo (knee), Mikey Ambrose (knee), Brandon Vazquez (foot), Chris McCann (quad)

New York Red Bulls

Injured: Kyle Duncan (anterior cruciate ligament), Florian Valot (anterior cruciate ligament), Vincent Bezecourt (medial collateral ligament), Tommy Redding (shoulder), Ben Mines (clavicle)

Predicted Lineups

Atlanta United


Escobar – Larentowicz – Parkhurst –Piréz  – Garza

Nagbe – Remedi – Gressel



New York Red Bulls


Murillo – Long – Parker – Lawrence

Adams – Davis

Muyl – Romero Gamarra – Royer


Score Prediction

Atlanta United 1-1 New York Red Bulls

[Photo: Jasen Vinlove]

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