The Red Bulls have a strong case to be the best defense in the league. They are currently tied with Seattle for the fewest goals conceded, and all four of their defenders could make the claim to an MLS All-Star spot (Aaron Long and Michael Murillo were named to the All-Star team and both started against Juventus). They aren’t just individually talented, either; their styles mesh perfectly with how the team plays.
They each boast the athletic qualities to cover ground in the press, the courage to play in 1v1 situations, and the concentration to transition forward quickly. I’m not sure head coach Chris Armas would take any compilation of defenders over his own.
Atlanta have plenty of talent of their own, but they’ve been playing mix-and-match at outside back all season. Center backs Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez have been constants, but they’ve had six players fill into the other two spots. Head coach Tata Martino has a big decision to make there.
On the left side, 16-year-old George Bello started the last game and put in a nice performance against Real Salt Lake. Will Martino trust a teenager with the biggest game of the year, or will he return to veteran Chris McCann?
On the right, Martino has switched between Julian Gressel and Franco Escobar lately. Gressel provides the more attacking option. He also solves one of Martino’s other dilemmas: getting other important players on the field. When Gressel plays right back, it gives Martino a chance to start Ezequiel Barco or the recently-returned Darlington Nagbe. But I’m guessing Martino goes with the more traditional, conservative defender in Escobar for this tough away game.
Either way, Atlanta’s defense is strong, but not to Red Bulls’ level.