HARRISON, N.J. — Whether it’s been Club Tijuana in the Concacaf Champions League, New York City FC at Red Bull Arena or the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center, the New York Red Bulls have answered the bell in the biggest challenges of 2018.
And now comes, arguably, the greatest of challenges in Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night.
“Within our group we’ve always found a way to get up for the big games,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “It’s been really important for us, going on the road now and playing in a big game, to look for three points. But at the end of the day, it’s about having 11 good performances [on the field] and we know if we do that we’ll get the three points.”
Atlanta United (8-2-1) currently sits atop the Supporters Shield standings and has the most lethal attack in the league with a dizzying display of attackers from Josef Martinez to Miguel Almiron to Ezequiel Barco. The Five Stripes lead MLS with 25 goals scored.
It is the ultimate challenge for the Red Bulls defenders and fullback Kemar Lawrence couldn’t stop smiling when asked of Atlanta’s attacking threats.
“Why do you think I play? That’s what we live for, that’s the only reason we’re playing. We’re pumped,” Lawrence said. “I think we’re ready, tactics are clear, the team looks fresh. We want them to bring their best. That’s everything we want. We want to see them at their best and we want them to be at their best.”
Don’t expect the Red Bulls to bunker down and look for chances on the counterattack. That’s not their style. They will go toe-to-toe with Atlanta and try to win a fourth straight game and third away from home.
“I think we match up well against them,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “I think it will be a great game and I think both teams will be aggressive and go after each other. I think it sets up to be a fast-paced game. Both teams like to score goals, both teams like to attack and both teams are aggressive.”
The Red Bulls (6-3-0, 18 points) have played two fewer games than Atlanta and have scored two fewer goals, while conceding two fewer (11) than the Five Stripes. Marsch sees their Almiron-Martinez-Barco and raises them Bradley Wright-Phillips–Kaku–Danny Royer.
“We’re excited to play a good team. The East this year will be a test week in and week out to make sure you give yourself a chance to compete for something at the end of the year,” Marsch said. “Looking at this game, right now it’s the best team in the league, a great team at home and a very explosive team. We will have our work cut out for us to stop the likes of Almiron, Barco and Martinez. That being said, they’re going to have their work cut out for them too because we’ve got some pretty good attacking weapons.”
It’s another game where the lights are bright, the opposition dangerous and the venue promises to be deafening.
And it’s another litmus test for a Red Bulls team with high aspirations this year.
“If we can’t win games like this, I don’t think we’re going to be MLS champions,” Lawrence said. “Games like this determine how far we go and what kind of team we really are. I think we’re calm, we’re humble, but we want to play games like this.”