Atlanta United

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD

MLS Snapshot: ATL uphold home dominance, grind it out vs. MTL

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The game in 100 words (or less): Here’s the only foolproof advice for any MLS team desperate for points in their pursuit of a playoff spot — don’t play Atlanta United, just don’t do it. Tata Martino’s side, now in the middle of a lengthy home-stand at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, has one four of their last five games (all at home) and climbed into third place in the Eastern Conference, finally surpassing the Chicago Fire, in the process. What’s more, Atlanta (49 points) also have a game in hand (or two) on every team above them in the standings. Hector Villalba and Jeff Laretnowicz bagged the goals during Sunday’s 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact, though this weekend’s greatest impact on Atlanta’s season is perhaps yet to be felt after Miguel Almiron left the game with an injury early in the first half.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three Four moments that mattered

17′ — Almiron leaves the field in tears, injured — Almiron left the game with an apparent leg injury. The 23-year-old Paraguayan, who has 9 goals and 13 assists this season, appeared to be in tears as he left the field.

28′ — Villalba unleashes a thunderbolt for 1-0 — If not for the back of the net, Villalba’s laser beam would still be traveling at a slightly upward trajectory two or three hours from now.

72′ — Guzan denies Salazer one-on-one to keep it 1-0 — Brad Guzan wasn’t asked to make a save until the 72nd minute, and the U.S. national teamer came up huge against Michael Salazar.

73′ — Larentowicz scores on the other end for 2-0 — Soccer, much like life, comes at you fast.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Carlos Carmona

Goalscorers: Villalba (28′), Larentowicz (73′)

MLS at Week 29: NYCFC looks to clinch vs. Houston, Atlanta hosts Impact

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Five weeks remain in the MLS regular season, and the playoff picture in both conferences are still quite murky despite time running out ahead of the postseason.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

While the playoff situation in the Western Conference likely won’t be settled until the final week or two, another team in the East can lock up a spot in the postseason this weekend with a victory.

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo

New York City FC has struggled a bit as of late with injuries and are also winless in their last two matches, but Patrick Vieira’s side has the opportunity to clinch its place in the East playoffs and potentially draw one step closer to locking up the second seed.

Vieira’s boys have scored just two goals in their last three outings (1-1-1 in that span), but the good news for NYCFC is that David Villa is expected to return to the starting XI on Saturday. MLS’ leading goalscorer has racked up an impressive 19 goals this season, and the Spaniard looks on pace to capture another MLS MVP award in 2017.

They’ll face the Dynamo in a “home” match in Hartford, Connecticut after the game was moved from Yankee Stadium due to a stadium conflict with the Yankees. The fixture still bodes well though for NYCFC, as the Dynamo boast one of the worst road records in MLS this season, at 1-9-5.


Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact

Tata Martino’s side continues to benefit from playing at their new venue, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Atlanta will have the opportunity to put on another show on Sunday against the Impact.

Atlanta has leapt all the way up to fourth in the Eastern Conference and could potentially go third this weekend with a victory. Over the team’s last four matches, Atlanta has scored an astounding 17 goals, putting the rest of MLS on watch over the club’s potent attack.

For the Impact, they are in desperate need of a victory after picking up three points against Toronto on Wednesday. Mauro Biello’s side is on the outside looking in with five matches remaining, and the Impact are still three points behind the New York Red Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East.


Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

Even if the Claret and Cobalt don’t qualify for the playoffs, Mike Petke has done a really special coaching job this season in Salt Lake City. RSL holds the final playoff spot out West for the time being, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve risen in the table given their form.

Since July 4, RSL is unbeaten in nine of its 11 matches, including six victories during that span. Unfortunately for Petke and Co., they have to play the Sounders this weekend — who haven’t lost June 17 at NYCFC.

The Sounders have drawn four in a row, but their unbeaten streak has extended to an MLS-best 13 matches as of late, putting them within a point of the Western Conference lead.


Here’s a look at the full rundown of the weekend’s action around MLS.

Saturday

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo — 3 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC — 5 p.m. ET
D.C. United vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders — 9:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET

Sunday

Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy — 2 p.m. ET
Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact — 5 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City — 8 p.m. ET

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 4-0 LA Galaxy (video)

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The match in 100 words (or less): Somewhere, Atlanta United is still scoring now with 19 goals in its last five outings. The “Five Stripes” fired at will for the second-straight game, leading 3-0 before Jermaine Jones made it academic with a silly red card. Yamil Asad had two goals and two assists in the first half, while Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez also scored. For Martinez, it’s seven goals in seven days. LA has quit, and Tata Martino’s Atlanta may just pose a threat to Toronto FC’s presumed MLS Cup Final spot.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]


Three moments that mattered

13′ — Maaaaayyyybe defend, LA? — It’s one thing for Rafael Garcia to back off and back off and back off and back off Yamil Asad. It’s another thing to fail in any attempt to mark the hottest scorer in MLS: Josef Martinez.

20′ — Three goals in seven minutes — About that “defending”… woof. This is a straight-up passing drill for ATL.

39′ — Jermaine Jones rolls back the years (not in a good way) — The combustible midfielder showed that vibes haven’t settled in LA despite Sigi Schmid’s presence, taking an easy red considering VAR’s abilities for dragging his cleat in the direction of a fellow human’s spine.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Asad

Goal scorers: Martinez (13′), Asad (16′, 20′), Almiron (43′)

Top Five clubs that could crush Toronto’s MLS Cup hopes

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It’s no secret that Toronto FC are far-and-away the favorite to win its first MLS Cup, one year after falling to Seattle Sounders in penalty kicks.

TFC has scooped up 11 more points than its nearest competitor, New York City FC, has a plus-37 goal differential, is unbeaten at home, and boasts more road points than 10 teams have acquired at home. Almost every major betting has them as somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 odds to win the title despite the MLS Cup Playoffs being a massive crapshoot based on form.

[ MORE: Toronto wins big w/o Jozy, Seba ]

Consider this: Toronto hasn’t even played in a one-goal match since Aug. 5, and has not lost since July 1.

As it stands, the Reds will likely wrap up the Supporters’ Shield this week ahead of a first-round playoff bye. The MLS playoff dynamics mean TFC will face a Conference Semifinal opponent who will be playing its third and fourth matches within a 10-day span.

At the risk of being too certain, it’s hard to imagine any team handling TFC over two legs. Ranking any team’s chances to knock them off almost certainly weighs in the favor of Western Conference clubs, who will have the be better than the Reds over just 90 minutes. Seeing as that will come in the cold confines of BMO Field, perhaps that should also weigh into the discussion.

Without further ado, the five teams with the best chance to ruin TFC’s dream of a treble (the Reds already have a Canadian Championship in tow).

5. Atlanta United — Tata Martino’s men have the offensive firepower to spring an upset and are constructed in a similar manner to TFC. Greg Garza and other outside threats will force TFC’s wily wing backs to respect the threat.

4.  Seattle Sounders — May have been No. 1 were it not for the injury to Jordan Morris. The fact is that even though Seattle was outplayed in last year’s final, the Sounders can bring ghosts with them to BMO Field.

3. New York City FC — City has two keys to their upset hopes. First, their opponent before TFC will likely be a Chicago team who is not racing to the finish line while the Reds will almost certainly face a team in form. The second is David Villa, who is maybe the best player in MLS history and, along with his manager, knows a thing or two about big games.

2. Vancouver Whitecaps — An All-Canadian Final would be hard for Don Garber to promote with a straight-face, but could be an amazing 90 minutes of soccer. The ‘Caps would have already navigated a rivarly-ridden road to Ontario, and Carl Robinson knows the ins and outs of Toronto. This would be a beauty. A beauty!

1. Sporting KC — If there is a manager in MLS more fit to match wits with Greg Vanney than Martino, it’s Peter Vermes. KC is a complete team with depth that will neither be scared of cold weather nor a boisterous stadium.

MLS Snapshot: Martinez, Dwyer, Larin score all 6 in ATL, ORL thriller

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The game in 100 words (or less more): First of all, let’s start with the numbers and get those out of the way. In three games at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there have been 16 goals scored (13 by the home side, Atlanta United). Seven of those 16 goals have been scored by Josef Martinez (16 in 14 games this season), including three more (his second straight hat trick, joining Eddie Johnson and Robbie Keane as the only players in MLS history to achieve the feat) in Saturday’s breathtaking 3-3 draw with Orlando City SC.

On the other side, Dom Dwyer bagged his first two goals for Orlando City, while Cyle Larin also got his name on the scoresheet to bring his season tally to a dozen. While the six goals were certainly thrilling for the new MLS-record 70,425 fans in attendance, the result is hardly ideal for Atlanta (43 points), who so desperately needed to make good on their games in hand. With seven games left to play, Tata Martino’s side sits fifth in the Eastern Conference, just two points back of the Chicago Fire (with a game in hand), and seven back of second-place New York City FC. Orlando, meanwhile, remain ninth in the East, six points back of the sixth and final playoff place.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — TFC’s Shield chase continues in LA ]

Three Four Five Six moments that mattered

10′ — Dwyer heads home at a near-impossible angle — It took him seven appearances and 445 minutes, but Dwyer has his first goal since being traded to Orlando at the end of July.

36′ — Martinez taps home at the back post for 1-0 — Julian Gressel did the really hard part, keeping the ball in play and somehow sliding it past Joe Bendik. Martinez arrive to the right place at the right time, and it was 1-1.

39′ — Dwyer does it again, puts Orlando back ahead — 445 minutes for his first goal, but just 29 minutes for his second. 99 percent of strikers are streaky scorers, and Dwyer has never been any different.

55′ — Martinez rises above to head ATL level — Chris McCann’s cross begs to be headed into the back of the net, and Martinez duly obliges.

58′ — Larin heads home Dwyer’s cross to restore the lead — Scorer turns assister, as Dwyer floats the ball to the back post for Larin.

69′ — Martinez slots home at the near post for 3-3 — Martinez explodes into the space as he races to get onto the end of Hector Villalba’s cross. Terrible recognition on the defense’s part, and brilliant movement by Martinez.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Dwyer (10′, 39′), Martinez (36′, 55′, 69′), Larin (58′)