Atlanta United is back.
All of the early season questions regarding Frank de Boer’s managerial style and the potential hangover from winning MLS Cup have flown out the window.
The Five Stripes are the hottest team in Major League Soccer with five straight wins, all of which have been shutouts.
The shutout streak dates to April 20, when the Five Stripes conceded two goals to FC Dallas.
Everything seems to be going right for De Boer’s side. Miles Robinson is playing at an incredibly high level at center back, Josef Martinez is heating up in front of goal and Pity Martinez got on the scoresheet for the first time in Week 11.
Possibly the biggest test of the season awaits Atlanta on Sunday in the form of a road trip to Red Bull Arena.
Chris Armas’ New York Red Bulls did not play Wednesday, like Atlanta did in Vancouver, and have won three of their last four games.
The Red Bulls have already knocked off FC Dallas and LA Galaxy during their winning run. A win over Atlanta would serve as a statement to the rest of the Eastern Conference that they will have a say in who lands the top seed.
Atlanta is making a surge up the table and the Red Bulls could land in a playoff position if results go their way this weekend.
But the teams already at the top of the East, D.C. United and Philadelphia, won’t make life easy for the perennial powers to surge into first place.
The Union face a test of their own Saturday with the Seattle Sounders going into Talen Energy Stadium.
The Sounders will be without Jordan Morris, who suffered an injury Wednesday against Orlando City, but they still have Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan at their disposal.
Philadelphia’s back line has held up well during its three-game winning streak, but it hasn’t faced a well-rounded attack like Seattle possesses, even if Brian Schmetzer rotates his squad a bit.
D.C. faces a test of its own on the road against the Houston Dynamo. Saturday’s clash at BBVA Compass Stadium comes after the Black-and-Red picked up a road point in Toronto.
The complexion of the East standings will once again change after Week 12, and it appears to be the more competitive of the two conferences with Los Angeles FC looking unstoppable on top of the Western Conference.
Week 12 Weekend Schedule
Saturday, May 18
New England Revolution at Montreal Impact (1 p.m. ET, TVA Sport, ESPN+)
Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake (3 p.m. ET, TSN 2, ESPN+)
Chicago Fire at San Jose Earthquakes (3:30 p.m. ET, Univision)
Seattle Sounders at Philadelphia Union (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Columbus Crew at Minnesota United (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Vancouver Whitecaps at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET, TSN 1, ESPN+)
D.C. United at Houston Dynamo (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Sunday, May 19
FC Cincinnati at Orlando City (3 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Atlanta United at New York Red Bulls (5 p.m. ET, FS1)
Los Angeles FC at FC Dallas (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Colorado Rapids at LA Galaxy (8 p.m. ET, TSN 1, ESPN+)
Storylines to Watch
1. Montreal Starts Huge Home Stretch
After playing eight road games in 11 weeks, the Montreal Impact finally have a run of home games.
The fourth-place Impact kick off a stretch of four home contests in five games in the first match of the weekend slate against the New England Revolution.
Home games against Real Salt Lake, Orlando City and Seattle are on the docket before the Concacaf Gold Cup break, and if Remi Garde’s team can put together a nice run of form, it will be in terrific shape near the top of the East.
What’s most remarkable about the Impact’s 20-point start is they have played the majority of their matches without Ignacio Piatti.
However, there are still some concerns about finding the back of the net. Montreal has scored 15 goals and contains the one of three negative goal differentials held by teams currently in playoff positions.
2. Can Toronto FC Be More Clinical In Final Third?
The other Eastern Conference side in Canada is coming off a performance in which it scored zero goals off 36 shots.
The Reds put plenty of pressure on the D.C. United defense, but they were unable to walk away with three points, which could cost them since they have dropped eight points at BMO Field already.
The good news for Greg Vanney’s side is it faces a Real Salt Lake side with a -5 goal differential Saturday afternoon, but the game is at altitude and comes at the end of a five-game stretch in two weeks.
Toronto isn’t expected to fire off a high volume of shots once again, but if it can convert on a few chances against a susceptible defense, it could end the arduous run of games on a high note.
3. Can Columbus Correct Its Poor Form?
The Columbus Crew reversed their form a week ago with a home win over the LA Galaxy, but then Caleb Porter’s team ran into the LAFC buzzsaw.
The Crew entered the season as one of the contenders in the East, but they have not looked the part since the start of April.
Columbus has lost six of its last seven games and faces a trip to Allianz Field to take on Minnesota United.
The Loons have held LA Galaxy, Seattle and D.C. to one goal in their last three home games as they turn the new stadium into a fortress.
Columbus has been shut out on four occasions during its losing run, which doesn’t bode well for Saturday, but with little expectations to pull out points from Minnesota, the Crew could play looser and earn a much-needed positive result.
4. Is This The Week Sporting KC Breaks Out of Slump?
On paper, Sporting Kansas City should pick up three points Saturday against a Vancouver Whitecaps side that fell at home Wednesday and faces a quick turnaround with travel across half of the continent.
However, Peter Vermes’ side is dealing with a laundry list of injuries that includes Gerso Fernandes, Daniel Salloi and Graham Zusi, among many others.
Matt Besler is on track to return to the side for the clash at Children’s Mercy Park, which has to be a huge positive for a team in need of a boost in confidence and momentum.
In their last four games, Sporting KC have conceded 12 goals. If Besler is able to provide a stopgap in the middle of the defense, they will solve one of the many issues that have caused the drop in form.
Solving the struggles in front of goal could be tougher with Salloi and Gerso among the attackers on the injury list. Sporting KC have been shutout in their last two games and haven’t scored since the 4-4 thriller at home against New England.
5. How Many Goals Will The Galaxy Score Against Colorado?
By the time the final whistle sounds Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Colorado Rapids defense could be burnt to ruins like King’s Landing after Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon stormed through town.
The Galaxy don’t have a dragon, but they do have a lion in their lineup with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic and the rest of the Galaxy attack are due to breakout after scoring once in the last two games of their three-game losing streak.
Colorado enters on an eight-game losing streak and with a goal differential of -14. Even if the Galaxy play halfway to their potential, they could further bury the Rapids in the Western Conference basement.
Player to Watch
Bill Hamid, GK, D.C. United
Bill Hamid is coming off a 12-save performance against Toronto FC, and he is expected to face another flurry of shots from Houston’s attack on Saturday.
With some of his squad expected to be rotated, Ben Olsen has to rely on the veteran goalkeeper to come up with another standout performance to leave Texas with points.
Matchup to Watch
Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes vs. Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire
Two of the top young American midfielders in MLS could square off against each other in the national spotlight on Saturday.
Jackson Yueill has carved out a place in Matias Almeyda’s starting XI out in San Jose, and he could face Chicago’s dynamic young attacker Djordje Mihailovic, who received a call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team January camp.
The trajectory of both players is surging in the right direction, and they are only going to play bigger roles moving forward for their respective sides.