Confrontations, drama and league-changing moments.
The New York Red Bulls-Atlanta United rivalry has had it all over the past three years, and the Eastern Conference sides will now meet Saturday night (8 pm ET | FOX, TUDN; TSN in Canada) to begin Group E of the MLS is Back Tournament.
Ahead of the match, here are some flashpoint moments from a series that RBNY leads 5-1-2 but in which the biggest win belongs to the Five Stripes.
Kemar vs. Villalba
Passions ran high during a May 2019 match at Red Bull Arena, when RBNY left back Kemar Lawrence and Atlanta forward Hector Villalba nearly came to blows after a hard stoppage-time challenge. Both players have since departed MLS, though Lawrence made his opinion known by motioning rocking a baby with his arms and Villalba lifted his arms as if he was holding a trophy.
"Every now and then you're going to find the one player that you don't like," Lawrence said after the match. "A lot of guys around the league like me. If one guy don’t like me, I can’t make everyone like me. I can tell you to be honest, they haven't beaten us with me in the lineup. That I know for sure.”
Celebrating at RBA
Before hoisting MLS Cup in 2018, Atlanta had to get past RBNY in the Eastern Conference Championship. The Five Stripes earned a 3-0 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first leg, and then advanced on aggregate (3-1) despite suffering a one-goal defeat in the second leg. That mattered little in the end, though, because Tata Martino’s team was one match away from a trophy – and the road celebrations showed it.
Atlanta supporters have celebrated plenty of home wins since the club entered MLS, but the Red Bulls soured a dream ending to their inaugural MLS game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on March 5, 2017. Yamil Asad scored a first-half opener, only for a Daniel Royer header and Anton Walkes own goal to seal the 2-1 away win. The result perhaps set a tone, with Atlanta winning only one of four home matches against New York.
New York was a thorn in Atlanta’s side during 2018’s final regular-season matchday, even though the two teams didn’t face each other. Chasing a Supporters’ Shield title, Atlanta dropped a 4-1 decision at Toronto FC. Concurrently, RBNY earned a 1-0 win over Orlando City to leapfrog the Five Stripes and take home silverware. The Red Bulls set a new record for regular-season points (71), a total that LAFC then bested in 2019 with 72.
No handshake for you
Head coaches, at least in the pre-COVID era, always share a customary handshake after the final whistle. But after a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena in 2018, then-Atlanta manager Tata Martino was having none of it. Chris Armas extended his hand after the fiery match, and the Argentine passed it by. Afterward, Martino said he "likes coaches with a low profile."
The whole exchange prompted several memorable memes, which spread quickly across social media.