Whatever version of MLS you ascribe to, be it MLS 2.0, 3.0, or beyond, we can all agree the more it looks like these two teams, the better.
In the less than five seasons combined, LAFC and Atlanta United have set a high bar. Both fan bases are the envy of their regions. Visitors to their respective stadiums wonder aloud where these people came from, having seen teams with decades of experience fail to touch the atmosphere created by the fledgling supporter groups.
On the pitch, both teams have put on a masterclass in building rosters from scratch. Fielding a combination of known talent and soon-to-be stars, they've raised the level of play in MLS to the point of being the new standard.
And they both win.... a lot.
Atlanta United and LAFC have been in a sometimes friendly match of one-upmanship since 2018. Atlanta set the mark for points by an expansion team in MLS in 2017, only to have LAFC break it a year later. Atlanta laid a 5-0 drubbing on LAFC at home last season on the way to lifting the MLS Cup in its second season. And now, LAFC is on pace to break the single-season MLS points record in its second season with sights on its own MLS Cup.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The two teams will meet head-to-head on Friday at Banc of California Stadium. Here's a preview of LAFC vs. Atlanta United:
LAFC vs Atlanta United Presented By Delta Airlines & Aeroméxico | July 26 at 7:00pm PT
Where To Watch
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
Radio: ESPNLA 710, KFWB 980
Is Atlanta United back? That's the question fans and pundits alike have been asking at different points this season. Frank de Boer's side started the season without a win in its first four matches. A five-match winning streak through the month of May made way for a mixed run of three wins in nine matches. But with victories in the previous two matches, including a 5-0 win over Houston, many are back on the United train.
What The Team Is Saying
Bob Bradley on the challenge Atlanta United presents: "Should be a great game with Atlanta. They're a great team with really exciting players. Slightly different ideas with Frank de Boer than under Tata Martino, a little bit more controlled and maybe a little bit less in transition. But certainly, the Josef Martinez part doesn't change at all. He's a striker that's so alert and has such instincts to get on the end of things. So we've got to have great concentration."
Walker Zimmerman on the atmosphere he expects from the home crowd: "I think that LAFC and Atlanta have a lot of similarities in terms of kind of these big-time clubs that come into the league, have a lot of success, and have very good fan bases. I think our supporters will be up for that and be ready to show that, 'Hey, we're the best supporters in the League.'"
Projected LAFC Starting XI
(4-3-3): Tyler Miller; Jordan Harvey, Eddie Segura, Walker Zimmerman, Steven Beitashour; Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Latif Blessing; Diego Rossi, Adama Diomande, Carlos Vela.
What To Watch For
The Martinez Pair: A lot of the focus on Atlanta this season has fallen on Pity Martinez. The reigning South American Player of the Year hasn't settled into United's team the way many expected. But while he's struggled, Josef Martinez has come alive as of late. The striker has 16 goals thus far this season and six in his last four matches. Josef is an opportunistic and streaky striker, the type that goes missing and pops up on the end of a cross at just the right time to punish you. LAFC will have to track the Venezuelan for the entire 90 minutes even when he's not involved. Because his next touch on the ball might be the one that ends up in the back of the net.
Big Game Woes?: Following the 3-2 loss in Carson, LAFC has been fielding questions regarding its ability to win the big matches. In terms of sample size, it doesn't seem the fairest of questions - a bit of recency bias seems to be playing a part as well. But the fact of the matter is that in big matches LAFC has had mixed results. For their wins away at D.C. and at home to Seattle, there are the failures in the Open Cup to Portland and in the derby. Despite chasing the best record all-time in MLS this season, LAFC is still coming to terms with consistent performances in big matches. After the loss last week, a complete performance with Atlanta in town would go a long way to showing the Black & Gold have the mentality to seize the big moments.
Bouncing Back From Defeat: Bob Bradley's team has been perfect this season after a defeat. In three matches following a defeat in all competitions in 2019, LAFC is perfect. They've also outscored opponents in those matches 12-3. Losses have been few and far between in 2019, the response in those moments has never faltered.