Looking at Atlanta United’s possible playoff opponents

September 16, 2017 Atlanta – Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (7) heads the ball in the second half of an MLS soccer match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, September 16, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

With two games remaining in the MLS regular season, Atlanta United can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The second seed in the playoffs comes with a bye in the knockout round and a game at home in the semifinals.

The third and fourth seeds come with a game at home in the knockout round.

Here are the standings with each team’s remaining schedule:

NYCFC (56 points): at New England, vs. Columbus.

Atlanta United (53 points): at New York Red Bulls, vs. Toronto.

Chicago (52 points): vs. Philadelphia, at Houston.

Columbus (50 points): at Orlando, at NYCFC.

New York Red Bulls (46): vs. Atlanta United, at D.C. United.

How does Atlanta United matchup against the five teams it could face in the first round of the playoffs:

Vs. NYCFC

Record this season

3-1 loss on May 7 at Yankee Stadium.

3-1 in on May 28 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Both of these were played without Josef Martinez. Atlanta United couldn’t deal with the embarrassingly small field at Yankee Stadium in the first meeting, but handled the Sheiks fairly easily at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Playoff possibility: NYCFC has two things that are scary: a significant homefield advantage (10-2-4 this season) and a proven goal-scorer in David Villa (20 goals). NYCFC has allowed 39 goals, which is one more than Atlanta United.

Verdict: Good matchup for Atlanta United at home. Not as good away.

Vs. Chicago

Record this season

4-0 win on March 18 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

2-0 loss on June 10 at Toyota Park.

Josef Martinez started the first game, which was affected by a red card to Johan Kappelhoff with Atlanta United already leading 1-0.

Atlanta United was dominated for most of the second meeting, which featured neither Miguel Almiron nor Martinez in the starting 11. Both came off the bench in second half. Chicago also had Bastian Schweinsteiger in this game. He hadn’t yet signed with Chicago when the teams met at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Playoff possibility: Chicago also has a proven goal scorer in Nemanja Nikolic (21 goals) and a World Cup winner in Schweinsteiger. It is also 11-2-3 at home.

Verdict: Good matchup for Atlanta United at home. Not as good away.

Vs. Columbus

Record this season

3-1 win on June 17 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

2-0 win on July 1 at MAPFRE Stadium.

Columbus is one of the few teams that will actually try to play a similar style as Atlanta United, instead of the counter-attacking style most teams prefer. That hasn’t worked well for the Crew in the first two meetings. The game at MAPFRE Stadium included goalkeeper Alec Kann getting an assist on a goal by Hector Villalba, one of two he scored, and Kann could have had another on a missed opportunity by Josef Martinez.

Playoff possibility: Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino has a lot of respect for the way Columbus plays. The Crew’s leading scorer is Ola Kamara (16 goals). He is the closest thing Columbus has to a player that must be planned for.

Verdict: Good matchup for Atlanta United at home and away.

Vs. New York Red Bulls

Record this season

2-1 loss on March 5 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Game upcoming.

Atlanta United’s players felt that they gave away at least one point and possibly two after taking a 1-0 lead on Yamil Asad’s goal – the first in franchise history – only to see the Red Bulls come back with two goals in the final 16 minutes.

Playoff possibility: The Red Bulls have a proven scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips (17 goals) and a string-puller in Sacha Klejstan (league-best 17 assists).

Verdict: Let’s see how Sunday’s game in Harrison, N.J. goes.


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