Ahead of their rematch with Atlanta United at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday (1:30 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes), Charlotte FC are in a much different place than when the Eastern Conference sides first met back on March 13.

Since that 2-1 early-season defeat at Mercedez-Benz Stadium, which included Adam Armour's header standing as their first-ever goal, Charlotte have picked up their first two MLS victories. Designated Player striker Karol Świderski struck for four goals combined in three-point results over the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati.

And while they're coming off a 2-0 road defeat to the Philadelphia Union in Week 5, Charlotte head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez isn't batting an eye at the Five Stripes-filled challenge.

"Playing again against them, now my players feel that as a team they are not better than us," Ramirez said. "We can compete, we can win. We were very close to tying the game."

With five games now to evaluate where his team stands in their inaugural campaign, Ramirez recognizes that the project remains a work in progress long-term. They're still waiting for DP winger Kamil Jozwiak to debut, and the Queen City side could stand to add another DP this summer, shifting midfielder Jordy Alcivar off his Young DP status.

Plus, Ramirez takes encouragement from looking at the path of Austin FC. The Verde & Black experienced plenty of growing pains during their expansion season of 2021, but now appear like they'll contend for an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot in year two.

"What it tells you is that it's tough," said Ramirez in Spanish. "I remembered Austin FC last year; they have outstanding players, starting with their coach, who I admire and respect. When I saw them play at the end of the season, I told myself this team would compete very well next season. Because I already saw a developed team and had gained experience after playing for a year. Also, now they will improve a few pieces; now that they have a foundation, it's easy to retouch a few things versus having to start from scratch.

"Austin is a perfect example; I'm also excellent friends with many people there. They suffered a lot and went through a painful process, but they are still standing after a year, and now a very competitive team."

From the Atlanta side, the Five Stripes will be without their big-name striker after Friday's news that Josef Martinez has undergone a cleaning procedure on his surgically repaired right knee and will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

ATLUTD head coach Gonzalo Pineda was left feeling "very optimistic" after Martinez's procedure, which follows an ACL tear that forced him to miss nearly the entire 2020 campaign and explore the possibility of early retirement.

"Last game he was in pain and he still wanted to play for the team," Pineda said. "So sometimes when I read some criticism towards him, you guys have to take into consideration that he's been under pain and that is not easy. We are hopeful that with this surgery he can clean that up and hopefully he can be back to 100% pain-free and then he can be, obviously, the normal Josef Martinez that we all know."

For Charlotte, Ramirez said Martinez's absence doesn't change much, considering the depth of talent still available on Atlanta's roster.

"In the game that we played there, the first two substitute players were $12 million each one," he said. "And they were substitutes. So, it's not just Martinez. They have a very deep squad and a very expensive squad, so they are ready to replace any player."