Atlanta United vs. NYCFC: Battle at The Benz

Atlanta United’s dominance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium should be put to the test in Sunday’s MLS game against unbeaten NYCFC.

From its first game in the $1.5 billion stadium, Atlanta United has run most of its opponents out of the building and on to Andrew Young International Boulevard. 

Powered by record-breaking crowds and taking advantage of every fiber of the expansive artificial-turf pitch, the Five Stripes have scored 38 goals in 11 regular-season matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They’ve scored more goals at home during that stretch than any other team in MLS. Toronto is second with 29 in its last 11 at BMO Field.

With the goals have come wins. Atlanta United is 3-0-0 at home this season and 8-1-2 since defeating Dallas 3-0 on Sept. 10 in its first game at the stadium.

“It’s our field. It’s our home,” Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel said. “The support is there. We love playing on that surface, and the dimensions fit us perfectly. As a top team, you have to win your games at home and see what you can get on the road.”

Its one loss came against Minnesota United when Atlanta United was down several players, including having to play its fourth-string goalkeeper in the game’s final minutes when the result was determined with two goals by the Loons for a 3-2 win.

NYCFC isn’t Minnesota United. 

The Cityzens, coached by Patrick Vieira and led by striker David Villa, are one of the top teams in MLS the past two seasons.

NYCFC features fast and technically gifted players, tactically astute plans and are tenacious on offense and defense with a high press. They like to play out of the back, create numerical advantages on one side of the pitch, which forces the defense to reach, and then switch the ball to the other side to try to take advantage of one-on-one situations.

“They are flying this year,” Atlanta United’s Chris McCann said. “It’s going to be a really tough game.”

Perhaps because the same things can be said about Atlanta United, the teams have had similar results this season. NYCFC and Atlanta United rank Nos. 1-2 in MLS in goals this season (14 and 13) and 1-2 in goal difference (plus-10 and plus-7).

“I think it’s going to be an entertaining game, quite an open game, as well,” McCann said.

Atlanta United may need every ingredient that has made it so tough at home to win Sunday.

Martino and the players said they are good at home because of the support they receive from the fans.

As it did last year in setting an MLS record with an average attendance of 48,200, Atlanta United again leads the league in attendance this season, with an average of 54,082, which is almost 15,000 more than the next highest average in Seattle.

“This is a league where teams usually have a strong home-field advantage for different circumstances,” Martino said. “In our case a big part is due to the people. the support helps us and allows us to have a great home-field advantage.”

They also say the field dimension -- 115 yards by 75 yards – and the speed which it allows them to move the ball perfectly suit their style of play. Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said turf gives attackers an advantage because it’s “a little bit tougher” for defenders to react and turn.

“The speed of the turf is real,” he said. “When it’s wet, the ball moves really fast and when you have someone like Tito (Hector Villalba) or Miguel (Almiron) dribbling they are taking off. It’s impossible to defend one on one.”

Vieira said earlier this week that NYCFC is going to try to take the game to Atlanta United, which means it won’t try to win by playing a counter-attacking style that other teams have tried.

But put it together, and it can be difficult for opponents who aren’t used to all of the elements that have made Atlanta United tough at home.

“When teams come here and try to sit in I think sometimes that can be their downfall,” McCann said. “They try to hold on for as long as possible and we end up breaking you down. This will be a different proposition. They are a good side.” 

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