Anyone looking for a blueprint on how to start an MLS expansion franchise should look no further than Atlanta. It has taken less than two seasons for Atlanta United to become the class of the league. The team needs just 7 points in its final three games this season to set a league record of 70.
The Revolution meet United Saturday afternoon in Atlanta in what could be a telling matchup for the direction of both teams.
“It’s not that the ship has been sinking,” said Revolution coach Brad Friedel. “A lot of the performances have been very good. It’s more attention to detail in smaller scenarios where you’re making individual errors as opposed to righting the ship.”
Both Atlanta and New England are coming off losses. Atlanta fell, 2-0, in a hard-fought battle against the New York Red Bulls on the road. It was the first time United had been shut out since May 9.
As for the Revolution, a 4-1 defeat at Toronto was more surprising. The Revolution took an early lead and carried momentum for much of the first half until an equalizer shortly before the break unraveled them. Toronto added three more goals in the second half to complete the rout.
“Maybe that was a decent thing to have happen, in a strange way,” said Friedel. “We now know that we can’t take anything for granted with regards to the level of work we have to put in, because that’s what defending is. It’s a mentality, a concentration, and an effort scenario.”
New England is winless in three meetings with Atlanta, including a pair of ties at home in which the Revolution looked defensively sound against the league’s premier attacking team. The most recent draw was 1-1 May 30.
But in their only trip to Atlanta last season, the Revolution experienced the full wrath of United’s attacking fury. Atlanta lit up the Revolution from start to finish, handing New England a franchise-worst 7-0 loss, one of the largest defeats in league history.
“It’s hard not to remember getting your butt kicked that bad,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. “We’re going in there thinking about what we need to do, what we need to take care of is the 3 points.”
While Atlanta already has clinched a playoff position, New England’s chances to do so are slim. Amazingly, even after winning just three times in the last 20 games, the Revolution are still in the running for a playoff spot, though they’ll need help.
The Revolution are in eighth place, 5 points back of sixth-place Montreal with a game in hand. but with D.C. United providing an obstacle.
“Everything’s a must-win,” said Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe. “This is a big time. For us, it’s about one game at a time.”