The teams will be squaring off next Sunday at Red Bull Arena (1 pm ET | ESPN - Full TV & Streaming Info) at the top of both the Eastern Conference and Shield races. Following the weekend's action, with both teams posting 2-0 wins, the Five Stripes hold a four-point cushion with the teams even on games played.
While the Supporters' Shield would be Atlanta's first piece of silverware, in just their second season of existence, utilityman Julian Gressel insisted that the home side in the big No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown will be feeling the heat.
“Kind of a big one, but I think the pressure is on them,” Gressel said following Saturday's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake. “We’re ahead and we’re No. 1 and we’ll stay there no matter what the outcome is of that game. So we have a nice and calm week to prepare and get ready. Why not go there and win and kind of make it really tough for them?”
Atlanta and New York both have four games left in the regular season, and the Five Stripes will continue to lead no matter the outcome of the head-to-head matchup. While Atlanta United head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino admits his side may have a hand on the Shield already, that may only be temporary.
“Yeah, we might have a hand on it,” said Martino with a laugh, “but the Red Bulls want to cut that hand off."
How did Atlanta get into this position of opening their largest lead at the top of the table in some time? With three wins in eight days, including two on the road, in difficult road trips to visit the Colorado Rapids (3-0 win) and the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday (4-3 win).
Martino played up that ability to get maximum points, and for the Five Stripes to bounce back from an uncharacteristically sloppy performance against the Quakes, to get back on track with a straightforward victory at home against RSL.
"What leaves me happiest is, first that we took nine out of nine points, but furthermore that in the third game we were able to find our level of play again. The level of play today and the victory,” he said.