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If Atlanta United FC still have designs on seizing the Eastern Conference summit, they can do their cause some major good when they pay leaders New York City FC a visit at the Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
With just three games left in the regular season, there is currently a four-point difference between the Five Stripes and the conference-topping New Yorkers. Atlanta can cut that down to one by beating NYC FC on their own turf.
And with their last two fixtures being easier than the Pigeons’, there could be a change at the top by the time the season concludes. And you already know what the top seed brings in the MLS playoffs: a first round bye, more rest and a greater chance of going all the way.
While this road to Eastern Conference pinnacle and beyond seems uncomplicated in theory, it isn’t exactly that. Not after Atlanta lost their superstar forward Josef Martinez to a knee injury in the 3-1 home win over San Jose.
While the extent of the Venezuelan’s injury is still unknown, and it remains unclear whether or not his season is over, it would be wise to deduce that he will not be involved in the upcoming midweek fixture at least.
Without Martinez’s menacing presence up front, the equation changes completely for Frank de Boer’s men. After all, this is not some regular run-of-the-mill forward. This is Josef Martinez who scored an MLS record 31 goals last season and powered his side to playoff glory, netted another 26 this year and had scored in 15 consecutive games — a streak he may have continued, had the injury not forced him out.
If he is ruled out, which appears likely, then one of Brandon Vazquez and Hector Villalba will be asked to step up. While neither are able replacements for Martinez, both have performed admirably at times in spurts.
It’s that promise that makes Atlanta’s Argentinean defender Leandro González Pírez claim that Martinez’s potential absence will not hurt the side as much as others think.
“Josef is a great player… but it’s also because of what the team generates and assist him. He’s an important piece, but if he’s not there, that doesn’t mean we can’t win,” he said.
Perhaps to maintain the spirits or even out of pure delusion, teams and teammates can sometimes say such things when dealt a major setback in the middle of a campaign.
NYC FC’s modus operandi, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. Instead of putting all their baskets in one Martinez-sized basket, they get their goals from all over. Heber has 14, Alexandru Mitrita has nine, while Valentin Castellanos bagged 11 from midfield.
New York City FC vs Atlanta United Betting Predictions:
The head-to-head record between these two is where Atlanta fans would be hoping that Martinez somehow miraculously turns into a bionic man and recovers in time for Wednesday.
Listen to this: Atlanta are unbeaten in their last six games against the NYC FC. They have won four of those six games, including all of their last three meetings — two of which were last year’s chastening double-legged defeats in the conference semifinals.
When they met earlier this year in Atlanta, Martinez was at the double. He had also netted a brace when these two had met in the second leg of the conference semis.
So Mr Leandro González Pírez, you’re saying that the poacher who has scored almost 50 per cent (26 of 53) of your team’s goals this season is missing and you’ll be fine? This, against a side that is unbeaten in their last eight matches.
Coincidentally, the last team to beat NYC FC was Atlanta. This is not the same Atlanta though, even if only one guy has changed.
Based on that, the play here is to back New York City FC to beat Atlanta United FC @ -118, available at PointsBet.
$500 + $500