Tomorrow’s game against the Columbus Crew is a crucial one for the 5 Stripes heading into the playoffs. As I have mentioned before the home-field advantage that would be gained by winning the Eastern Conference is a very important step for Atlanta to win the MLS Cup two years running. When it all comes together however, it is not the end of the world if we do not hold home-field advantage in the playoffs. Although the Mercedes-Benz is a horrifying place for any other team to play in, it does that mean that Atlanta United cannot bring us to the promised land yet again.
If we think about how much United have gained already this season it helps to put things into perspective. We hold two very prestigious cups having already won the Campeones Cup, as well as the U.S Open Cup. It is almost doubtless that the long string of games that allowed us to claim these titles had something to do with the loss to the Union. Since the end of June Atlanta has played 16 games totaling nearly half of the games that an EPL team would play in a single season, and let’s also not forget that only 5 teams play in another cup game during the EPL season aside from the FA Cup. Only the top 4 at the finish of the season get the privilege of playing in the Champions League, and only 2 that almost never hail from the same league, play in the Final.
That says a lot about how fast-paced the MLS Season has been for United. It brings the question to whether or not the team has been slated for too many games, regardless of the cups and prestige it brings to the 5 Stripes. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely proud of what United has accomplished this season. The circumstances simply seem that it puts the team in a harder line to win the MLS Cup. I understand that the purpose of all of these cup games is to familiarize the way football is played in North America, with how it is played in Europe. If that is the goal, and it certainly seems to be, why then don’t we have a relegation system as they do in almost every country in Europe?
That has always been something that has bothered me since the MLS came to Atlanta. Why would we change a style that has proven to work in Europe, only to turn it into our American style which involves playoff seeds along with Eastern and Western Conferences? Is it truly completely out of the question that a relegation system would not work in the MLS? There are 2nd tier teams like Atlanta’s number 2 squad that functions much as other squads do in Europe. Do we not have enough teams to create the same system?
The thing that brings the most hope is the form that Atlanta has been in despite its loss to Philadelphia. After all, we were undefeated in 10 games before we faced The Union. Those 10 games also included 2 finals. That would tire any team out, especially when playing against the other best team in the East. The rest that United have gotten over the past week and a half should be an advantage for 5 Stripes. In watching the game against Philly, it almost seemed like the gas ran out after Martinez extended his goal streak right before half time. Now Atlanta faces the ultimate challenge, but with plenty of rest. Surely this long rest period will have allowed FDB’s squad to rest and rehabilitate any lagging injuries. The one thing that is for sure is that Atlanta will be able to bring their best after a long gap in games, which hopefully will negate the possibility of not having that beloved home-field advantage during the playoffs.