With seven points earned in the last week, Atlanta United has taken a big step in securing a playoff berth in its inaugural season. The Five Stripes currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They are seven points ahead of the Montreal Impact, who come to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday with a desperate need for a win to reignite their playoff hopes.
With a spot in the postseason all but secured, the question now becomes where can Tata Martino’s squad finish in the Eastern Conference? Toronto FC will likely secure the top seed and the Supporters’ Shield (best regular season record) this week as they are eleven points clear of second place NYCFC.
Atlanta still has an outside chance of finishing as high as second place in the conference and earned a first-round bye, but it will need NYCFC to drop points in their remaining five games. The Pigeons host Houston (in Hartford due to a Yankees game being rescheduled at their shared home of Yankee Stadium) before heading on the road for three straight games. They finish at home against Columbus, in a match that could decide the Crew’s seeding fate. The Five Stripes have an easier road for the rest of the regular season with five games at the Benz and two on the road.
Third place Chicago picked up a big win Saturday night against DC United 3-0. The Fire have won two of their last three games and have possibly stopped the bleeding after a long slump. Atlanta has two games in hand over Chicago, the Fire also have two tough trips to San Jose and Houston remaining. Currently, Chicago would host the New York Red Bulls in the Knockout Round to open the playoffs.
Atlanta would have to travel to fourth place Columbus in the other Knockout Round matchup in the East as the table currently stands. However, the Five Stripes have three more games to play than the Crew and will likely pass them in the standings. Columbus conceded a late goal to Vancouver on the road Saturday night, costing them an unexpected win on the road.
Reaching fourth place is critical for Atlanta United as home field advantage is even more important in the playoffs. Home teams have a 13-3 record in the Knockout Round since the current format started in 2013. With Atlanta currently on a nine game unbeaten streak at home, along with the new confines at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home field advantage in the playoffs might have an even stronger effect for the Five Stripes.
With the next five games against teams below the playoff line, Atlanta has to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and earn as many points as possible. That starts on Wednesday against the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy. The five time MLS Cup champions are currently on their second manager of the season and on a 1-11-2 run since late June. They will be flying across the country to Atlanta on the heels of a 4-0 thrashing by Toronto Saturday night, one that resulted in a closed door meeting where manager Sigi Schmid told his players they were playing for their jobs as the season comes to a close.
You can hear the game on 92.9 The Game Wednesday night, with kickoff just after 7 p.m. Before kickoff, Adam Schick and I will join you on Facebook for a pregame show where we will be taking your questions. Join us on Wednesday!