Atlanta is a different animal this time

Jarrett Smith
May 18, 2018 - 3:30 pm
Atlanta United

© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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It has taken 45 games for Atlanta United to become the hunted.

For the Five Stripes, New York is a chance for Atlanta to take another step forward in 2018. It is also a chance for Atlanta to show the growth they've undergone since last season’s home opener.

The Five Stripes are now the trophy that teams want to put on their wall at this point in the 2018 season and Atlanta will get everyone’s best shot. They’re fast, deep and continue to play an entertaining game in either formation they trot out while collecting scalps on the road at the same rate as they do at home.

At this point everyone has made peace with the fact that Atlanta is in the ‘elite’ category for the 2018 season, but the ceiling for Atlanta is up for debate.

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year Atlanta was trying to develop an identity, not prove they are the top team in the country.

They’ll have another chance to make a statement on their ceiling Sunday afternoon when they welcome the New York Red Bulls to town before they start playing jump rope with home and away matches and at that point the schedule continues to get a bit more perilous for the club.

The schedule was always going to get more perilous because for every three points Atlanta United picks up, the questions will continue to bubble up about the potential of this club to chase some of the records that Toronto set just one year ago. Make no mistake, Atlanta United is really good and by the end of the World Cup we might have to discuss if ‘really good’ is not a strong enough term.

First things first though, and Atlanta will have to deal with a Red Bulls team that can be very dangerous. Or they could just look weird and give Atlanta opportunities.

Every once in about moon I am convinced that Jesse Marsch reaches into the bear trap to disable it when all he has to do is toss a stick into it and keep going but you can never count on that. What you can count on is a fast press and dangerous counter attacks that can ask everything of even the best defenses.

It is another match where Atlanta United is the measuring stick for everyone else in the league and this trend is unlikely to go away.

The Red Bulls are as willing as any team in the league to mirror Atlanta United’s ability to press aggressively and ask Atlanta to make the changes that Tata Martino has been so good at this year.

If every MLS victory is a merit badge then New York Red Bulls could be a special one for Atlanta. This is the club that can play like you and give you fits. This is the club that beat you in your inaugural match. Now is your chance to show what you have become.

Forty-five matches down and 44 since the loss at Bobby Dodd.

Imagine where things will stand 45 matches from now.