Atlanta United's Sunday match at the Seattle Sounders (4:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes) is one of the most anticipated matches of the weekend, featuring a Sounders team that has been the best in the league through six matches and an Atlanta side continuing their quest to rebound from a difficult 2020.
For the visitors, though, the goal is to not get caught up in all the hype.
"For me, there is not one game that is more important than the other," head coach Gabriel Heinze said during a virtual press conference on Friday. "First, because I respect all the opponents and for me, the next game is the most important game."
That mindset is why Atlanta are choosing to focus on themselves ahead of the match, despite facing the unbeaten Sounders at Lumen Field. The Five Stripes enter the matchup at 2-1-2 and are coming off a dramatic, last-second 1-0 home victory over CF Montreal that saw Marcelino Moreno head home a game-winning goal on the last sequence of the match.
Seattle undoubtedly present the toughest challenge of the season for Atlanta so far in Year One under Heinze, as the Rave Green currently lead the Supporters' Shield standings with a blistering 5-0-1 record that leaves them with 16 points from six matches. Heinze also confirmed on his Friday video call that Atlanta will be without a trio of key contributors on Sunday, as Ezequiel Barco, Alan Franco and Jurgen Damm will all be sidelined with injuries.
"We have to go after them," defender Anton Walkes said. "We need to create as many chances as we can and execute them as well. We need to start getting a few more goals. That’s the target we had. The quality we have, eventually, is going to come and I know it’s an away game, but we’re going there with every intention to be dominant. We need to make sure we start on the front foot."
In regards to their upcoming opposition, Heinze noted that momentum is on the Sounders' side, while Walkes described them as "dominant."
"They’ve got great quality and players that execute really well," Walkes said. "They’ve all got a great instinct about them where they’re very executive and they don’t need many chances to score."
Walkes also feels that this particular match, though important, will not necessarily be one that defines their progress early on in the season.
"I think we’ve got the season going on the weekend," he said of the theatrical win over Montreal. "We had fans back and we got the win."
Still, the match against a Western Conference frontrunner presents a fresh opportunity for Atlanta to demonstrate what they are about this season.
"We have been focused on them but without making sure we do our job, we can’t get the result," Walkes said. "Hopefully this opportunity benefits us in terms of stopping them. It’s going to be an interesting one to see."