Atlanta United FC has a fancy new toy, and boy, are they showing it off. The team plays in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a brand new stadium that opened just more than a month ago. Atlanta situated their schedule so they could play as many home games in that stadium as possible, which has created a stretch when the team plays eight games in a 24 day span. Head Coach Jim Curtin said he should expect a raucous crowd, but also concedes the team may hit an Atlanta squad with some heavy legs.
"There will be 50,000 people, it'll be loud," Curtin said. "You won't be able to communicate on the field, so the understanding of your teammates, the relationships on the field, have to be perfect to get a result in their house. I said to the guys, 'This is the challenge we have.' It is their eighth game in 24 days, they've been really going at it because of the stadium build and the backloaded number of games that they do. So hopefully we catch them in a mid-week where maybe their legs are heavy."
A casualty of the eight game is 24 days is Miguel Almiron, as the midfielder left Atlanta's match against Montreal Impact this past weekend with an injury, and will be sidelined for three weeks with a hamstring issue. Almiron is a major part of Atlanta's offense, with nine goals and 13 assists on the season. Curtin said having him out definitely changes how the Union prep for Atlanta, because there isn't another player in the league like him. However, the team still needs to respect the Atlanta attack, because there are many different ways for Atlanta to score.
"You never want to see a guy get injured," Curtin said. "Obviously, Almiron is one of the most special players in our league. He changes their attack for sure. I'll be blunt, it won't be the same. It does change their attack. But they present a ton of attacking issues. I feel bad for Almiron, you could see it in his face when you watched the game on Fox, you could see the disappointment on his face. Obviously, they lose a big piece. It does make it a little easier for us, but you can't relax going into a tough place to go play."
Looking for 15
A major player for the Union will be CJ Sapong, who tied the Union's single season goal record against Chicago with his 14th goal of the season. With four games to go, Curtin said the team will definitely try and give him the individual accomplishment of setting the new Union record. The key will be to not have Sapong press, though. If Sapong plays his normal game, and the Union continue to do what they have done all season, then Sapong should find the back of the net for No. 15 and more.
"CJ's a guy when he gets service, he's very dangerous in the box," Curtin said. "He's done everything we could have asked and more. Obviously for him now in these last four games, we don't want him to press, but obviously it would be nice for him to break that record. Something that's on everyone's radar. We want to get him service in and around the box, and we know he'll score goals. He's had an exceptional season, happy for him, and now hope that continues in the final four games."