With just over half of its inaugural season completed, Atlanta United is sitting in fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference and would host a playoff game at Mercedes Benz Stadium if the season ended today. I know expansion team history in all sports tells you that it takes time to be competitive. However, the Five Stripes are for real and some national writers are even starting to include Atlanta among the contenders for MLS Cup.
Step 1 is just getting into the playoffs. Using points per game to account for teams playing a different number of games at the moment, only two teams have ever made it into the playoffs if they were on the outside looking in at this point in the season. Of course, one of those teams was last year’s Seattle Sounders, who went on to win MLS Cup. The other was the 2015 New England Revolution. Atlanta has a small cushion right now, but sitting in the fourth spot gives them some security that they will not be caught.
Atlanta United will also benefit from a favorable remaining schedule. With nine remaining home games and only six on the road, that sets up quite nicely for the Five Stripes. Only two of those games away from home are against teams currently in the playoff picture and none of them involve cross-country trips (Atlanta made three of those in the first half). According to MLS, United has the second-easiest schedule remaining in the Eastern Conference.
Getting into the playoffs is the first step, positioning is the second. Six teams from the Eastern Conference will make the playoffs and the top two teams receive a bye in the first round. Currently, Atlanta is eight points behind both Chicago and Toronto for one of those slots. In the Knockout Round that opens the playoffs, seed No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5. Home field advantage is critical in these winner-takes-all matches; only three away teams have advanced since the format debuted in 2012.
Atlanta’s next two games are critical for playoff positioning as they face the team one point behind them in the standings, Orlando City. Friday night, they play in Florida where Orlando is only 1-3-2 in their last six home games in all competitions. On June 29, the teams will play again at a sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium where Atlanta has won their last five in a row.
We’ll have the call for you on Friday night! Join Adam Schick and me, kickoff will be just after 7 p.m.