MARIETTA, Ga. — Michael Parkhurst might be feeling some deja vu this week.
In 2015, Parkhurst faced a similar situation to the one his Atlanta United side find themselves in now, sitting on a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Championship heading into Thursday’s second leg against the New York Red Bulls (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN2, TVAS2).
Three seasons ago, Parkhurst, then with Columbus Crew SC, held a 2-0 edge after Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship before a trip to Harrison, New Jersey to take on the 2015 Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls. Sound familiar?
“I was just talking to a couple of the guys [about 2015],” said Parkhurst. "We went there with a 2-0 lead and shut them down for 86 minutes. They scored a goal in the last 5 minutes and it was absolute chaos … We have to be ready to deal with balls in the box, second balls, and clearing our lines.”
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Atlanta experienced just how ruthlessly devastating the RBNY press can be when they traveled to Red Bull Arena on Sept. 30. A win or draw could’ve effectively clinched the Supporters’ Shield, yet the Five Stripes returned home with their tails between their legs after a disastrous 2-0 loss that would see them start to lose their grasp on that hardware.
“I think it's a benefit that we played that game and it went the way it did,” Parkhurst told media Tuesday. “Now we understand exactly the type of pace this game is going to be played at and the intensity they're going to press us with. It won't come as a surprise, and we know how good we'll have to be on the day physically, mentally and tactically in order to have better success.”
As Parkhurst and manager Tata Martino pointed out Tuesday, Atlanta’s challenge is how to strike the right balance of defensive solidity and attacking aggression to relieve pressure. If they can score just a single goal at RBA — something ATLUTD have failed to do on their two previous visits — the Red Bulls would need to score five goals, in order to overcome the away-goal tiebreaker.
“For us, we have to look at the game like it's 0-0, like we haven’t won anything,” Martino told media through a translator. “And then, for us, it's important not to cede control of the game to the Red Bulls, because that's when they'd be able to do the most damage.”