Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls: Match Preview

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HARRISON, NEW JERSEY- FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls is challenged by Tim Parker #26 of Vancouver Whitecaps during the New York Red Bulls Vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC CONCACAF Champions League match at Red Bull Arena on February 22, 2017 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The 2017 MLS season gets underway this weekend, and expansion sides are certainly a key storyline heading into the new year. Along with Minnesota United, Atlanta United FC join the league for its 22nd season and will host the New York Red Bulls on Sunday evening (7:30 PM EST – FS1).

Atlanta United FC vs. New York Red Bulls: Match Preview

The Red Bulls enter the new campaign following a strong regular season in 2016, but suffered a bitter end in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The departures of team captain Dax McCarty and sporting director Ali Curtis made for a hectic off-season as well.

Key players such as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan will once again be counted on to produce throughout 2017.

Atlanta bring with them a strong passion for the sport and an eager fanbase, with the new franchise announcing the sale of over 30,000 season tickets before the team’s first match. The club have responded on the field as well, bringing in former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino and adding quality talent for their first year. The ability for all of these elements to come together quickly will be a key component to success for Atlanta and the organization overall.

Kenwyne Jones, Michael Parkhurst, Greg Garza, Hector Villalba and Paraguayan international Miguel Almiron give supporters quite a bit of confidence that their side will be competitive in 2017.

Players to Watch

Atlanta’s designated player pair of Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba will be a fascinating combination, as Martino will look to utilize their pace and skill on the ball to stretch New York’s back-line. Center-backs Aurelien Collin and Aarong Long will need to communicate effectively dealing with the pressure, as well as keeping tabs on Kenwyne Jones in the final third.

New York enters with a major injury concern, as Gonzalo Veron was hurt during their CONCACAF Champions League elimination at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday.

How much time the Argentine will miss due to this particular setback remains to be seen, but could certainly see a change in the Red Bulls line-up on Sunday night.

A Trip Into the Unknown

For New York and head coach Jesse Marsch, the weekend’s visit to Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium presents a unique and possibly difficult challenge. Atlanta recently announced that they are expecting upwards of 50,000 fans in attendance for their first-ever MLS match.

The atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric and provide plenty of enthusiasm for the home side.

Coming off a mid-week trip to Canada on short rest, the Red Bulls need to monitor fatigue and deal with a challenging first encounter of the season.

Another Slow Start for the Red Bulls?

New York found themselves in an early hole during the 2016 regular season, beginning the campaign with a 1-0-6 record.

While the club were able to improve their form and finish atop the Eastern Conference, Marsch will certainly want to see his squad earn more points early on. Along with only three victories away from Red Bull Arena last year, better performances have to be a priority during their travels.

Expansion sides tend to struggle in their inaugural season. However, Atlanta United have prepared themselves well for life in MLS and will provide the New York Red Bulls a stern test on Sunday.

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