They meet in the marquee game of Week 15 of the Major League Soccer season as Atlanta United head to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC in a top-of-the-table clash (12:30 pm ET | Full TV & Streaming info).
Both teams have been lauded for their attacking styles and the coaches for the tactical acumen. They’re also usually on a short list of early-season contenders for the MLS Cup.
With that in mind, we have a bit of a two-part question we posed to our esteemed panel of Senior Editor Nick Rosano, New Media Editor Ben Baer, Senior Writer Matt Doyle, Extra Time Host and Producer Andrew Wiebe and contributors Charlie Boehm and Bobby Warshaw.
Which team will finish higher in the East and which team is better-equipped to win MLS Cup?
BAER: This is a tough week to be asked these questions, with Patrick Vieira’s status at the helm of NYCFC very much up in the air. When there’s this much smoke, there’s usually fire and this could be Vieira’s last match in MLS. Given that, Atlanta is the easy choice for both questions.
DOYLE: Well, I had NYCFC as the favorite because of the aplomb with which they've handled their brutal early schedule. But between the injury to Yangel Herrera and uncertainty surrounding Patrick Vieira's future... I think the pendulum has swung the other way to Atlanta finishing higher in the East. My guess is NYCFC, nonetheless, will be the side better-equipped to win MLS Cup because I have a feeling David Villa – who should be at the World Cup with Spain – is going to turn opposing defenders into mulch this November.
WIEBE: Before Herrera’s untimely and unfortunate injury, this would be have been an agonizing decision for me. Now, I’m taking Atlanta United on both counts. They’re deeper. There is no doubt their coach is sticking around. They’re going to hit the transfer market for a defensive midfielder (and maybe more) this summer. They have the most relentless goalscorer in the league (Josef Martinez) and the most dynamic attacker (Miguel Almiron). Their defense is among the best in MLS, even if it rarely gets pub. Oh, and they already have as many road wins in six games (four) as all of 2017. No team has higher upside. Still gotta do the job, though.
BOEHM: Atlanta — they’re deeper, fiercer, nastier and less dependent on any one player (as NYCFC remain with El Guaje). And that's why they'll make a much stronger run at both the Cup AND the Shield.
WARSHAW: I'm going to admit that I don't have a good answer. I don't see much between them. If Alex Ring and Herrera were fit and in form, I would give NYCFC the slight advantage; but Herrera is out for the year and Ring hasn't been as good this year. I could find reasons to pick either team, but I don't fully believe in them. There are too many variables — What happens with Vieira? What if Almiron gets hurt? Will Ezequiel Barco get better? — that I won't claim to be able to predict. I'm going to say it's too close to call, and I'm just going to enjoy the rivalry for the year.
ROSANO: As cool as it would be to see Villa, of the all-time great players in MLS history, add an MLS Cup to his sparkling resume, it's too hard to pick against Atlanta at this point in the season. It bears iterating, though: not many, if any, people factored Patrick Vieira's possible departure and a season-ending injury to a key player when making their preseason predictions, and while that has certainly swung momentum in Atlanta's direction, it's no guarantee that they'll make it through the second half of the season intact either.