2019 MLS Week 18 Preview — New York Red Bulls (8-3-7) vs. Atlanta United FC (9-2-7)

Things have not exactly gone to plan for both reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United and 2018 Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls this season. Both teams look to put ugly losses behind them Sunday in a crucial clash of Eastern Conference rivals.

The Five Stripes have looked the part of title-holders in flashes this season. Atlanta (9-2-7) appeared to have gotten on track after a slow start in which it claimed five points from its first six matches, but its road woes were again laid bare Wednesday night in a 5-1 thrashing administered by Chicago.

United were a mess from the start, conceding twice in the first seven minutes. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez further complicated matters for a handball in the penalty area that resulted in a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. That led to the third goal for the Fire, who tacked on two more before intermission.

“We have to be ashamed for the first 45 minutes,” de Boer fumed. “For our fans, who come here and want to see Atlanta United and we were embarrassing today, especially the first half. Explanations are always difficult but we weren’t there the first half, that was clear.

“You can only show some (fortitude), some honor. And they showed it in the second half … I said after the game, ‘Okay, remember this feeling. You don’t want to feel it again.’ That embarrassment and shame that you feel. You want to avoid it. And you’ll probably have that once in your career and hopefully it’s only once.”

Brandon Vazquez’s penalty in the 58th minute let Atlanta avoid its first five-goal defeat in franchise history, but the five conceded set a club record for most allowed in a match. It was the fourth straight road loss for the Five Stripes, who are still just six points back of Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference lead with two matches in hand.

The Red Bulls (8-3-7), who finished two points better than Atlanta last year before losing to them 3-1 on aggregate in a two-legged conference final, also are trying to regroup from a humbling midweek loss after being routed 4-0 at Houston. New York finished with nine men as both Michael Amir Murillo and Kaku were given red cards late in the contest, irritating coach Chris Armas.

“It’s 3-0, they score another one … guys stuck together, guys didn’t quit, even at that point, and that’s a positive, that’s the message,” Armas explained before adding, “but then, while I’m thinking about it, we take a second yellow card with Murillo and we’re not focused in that moment. And Kaku and Figueroa, I think (Figueroa) instigates and he stomps on Kaku’s foot after the goal and he retaliates.

So what would have been a silver lining as the team stuck together and fought hard to the end … we walk away feeling negative, we lose the game, they score a goal and two guys are out for Sunday, which is a big game.”

The Red Bulls have dropped two of three in league play following a five-match unbeaten run, but they may get reinforcements for this match to replace Murillo and Kaku as internationals Kemar Lawrence and Derrick Etienne Jr. could be available after Jamaica and Haiti, respectively, were eliminated in the Gold Cup semifinals.

New York edged Atlanta 1-0 at home May 19, with Tom Barlow’s goal on 65 minutes separating the sides. United have won six straight at home, outscoring opponents 11-1 in those games.

(Josef Martinez photo courtesy Atlanta United FC official Twitter account)

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