Atlanta United manager Tata Martino called Sunday's 3-0 win over FC Dallas (HIGHLIGHTS) his team's " best game of the season." Now the challenge is maintaining that level of play over a grueling stretch run toward the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
From now through early October, Atlanta will play seven games with three or fewer days between each. Five of those matches will be against Eastern Conference rivals who are trailing sixth-place Atlanta, the last team currently above the East's playoff line.
The good news about the Five Stripes' backloaded schedule is they'll play all but one of those games in the glistening Mercedes-Benz Stadium, including a match against Orlando City SC next Saturday which could see upwards of 70,000 people pack MB.
The adjustment to the new venue began well, with Atlanta outpossessing Dallas, 54-46 percent, and outshooting the visitors, 12-2.
“It was important because we had to adjust quickly to our new stadium,” Martino said. “We’re in the final stage of the league, and today’s game was a big challenge for us and I think we overcame it.
“We’ll take advantage of these next five, six games that we have here at home,” said fullback Greg Garza, who scored his second goal of the season on Saturday. “I know it’s a tough schedule, but I’m glad we got the win today to build the momentum.”
Atlanta only had three matches in August and before Sunday had struggled to rediscover the chemistry of earlier this season.
“We have had a crazy schedule since the end of June where we haven’t played a ton of games,” said captain Michael Parkhurst. “It’s been crazy sporadic, so we think that if we can get into a rhythm and build off performances, hopefully, we can rattle off a few wins in a row.”
Parkhurst concedes the physical demands of such a heavy stretch.
“Guys [are taking] ice baths right now,” he said. “We won’t be training much. It is mental and physical. Gamedays, we will be able to rely on these fans to pick us up.”
Despite having to play on short rest mid-week against the New England Revolution, Martino believes his regular starters will be ready.
“I think all the guys finished well and I don’t imagine rotating guys for the game on Wednesday,” he said said.
Atlanta United sits in good position in the table following the win against Dallas, two points behind fifth-place New York Red Bulls with two games in hand, and four points back from Columbus Crew SC with four games in hand.
Even so, Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan declined to predict where they might finish.
“There’s a lot of games to be played, there’s a lot of points to play for still,” he said. “Ask me that question at the end of the month.”