With anticipation building, Extratime co-hosts Andrew Wiebe and Charlie Davies traded perspectives on whether each team could actually make some noise come the postseason or if their reversals in fortune may fall short.
Starting on the Atlanta United side, Wiebe offered a strong vote of confidence as new head coach Gonzalo Pineda leaves his mark. They’ve won six of their last seven games and enter as the East’s seventh and final playoff team, though the race is air-tight.
“I think they’ve got some real potential in them and I would not put it past Gonzalo Pineda to help lead a big second-half surge here that drives them up the table, one into the playoffs but two helps them make some noise in the playoffs,” Wiebe said. “Talent-wise, they’re above and beyond most teams in the league. We always knew that. Now it seems like they finally have the cohesion they need.”
Davies didn’t go quite that far, though especially praised the emergence of Ezequiel Barco in recent games. The 22-year-old Argentine seems to have hit another stride and is thriving alongside Luiz Araujo, Marcelino Moreno and Josef Martinez.
But will it be enough come Decision Day on November 7 to create momentum for a memorable run?
"I believe they get into the playoffs," Davies said. "That's what I'm gonna give them. I already said before, if they got to eighth place and they didn't get into playoffs that would be as successful [season] given where they were. They are a playoff team, they have the players, but it was never about the players. It was always about the coaching with this team and signing the right players for this team."
On the flipside, Wiebe was slightly less convinced by D.C. United. They’re the East’s No. 5 seed heading into Week 26 and have taken a big leap forward this year under new manager Hernan Losada.
The Black-and-Red can also point to striker Ola Kamara leading the Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 16 goals, though a progression into the next tier might prove elusive.
"DC is sort of in a middle ground for me," Wiebe noted, "I think that's a playoff team. I think what they’ve proven, over especially the last three or four months or so, is that what Hernan Losada planted in the preseason came to fruition and that their ability to use their depth, to use their collective, to use tactics ... they're pressing harder and better than anybody else in the league."
Davies questioned their spine, especially at center back and defensive midfielder, as potential weak spots that could limit a postseason charge.
“I think they get into the playoffs,” Davies said. “I don’t think they’re for real.”
Wherever you fall on the debate, it’s clear that playoff intensity is here. And what awaits at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is bound to provide fireworks with how much is on the line.
“Both teams are really looking to get into playoffs and get on that run, that magical run that all teams hope for heading into the playoffs," Davies said. "September is the month you get your horses fit, healthy and ready to go. There's no changing of ideas, you understand your culture, your philosophy and everyone's bought in. If you don't have that buttoned up come September, you can kiss that postseason goodbye."
For more Extratime analysis, check out the latest episode here.