Atlanta United, Rapids at opposite ends of standings
One team is playing for the annual Supporter's Shield and planning for bonus soccer in November. Another is simply trying to avoid finishing the MLS season in last place.
Atlanta United is one of the hottest teams in the MLS, has already punched its playoff ticket and is in contention for the best record in the league. With 54 points, Atlanta (16-5-6) sits in second behind the New York Red Bulls but has played one less match. A win at struggling Colorado on Saturday will put it in first place with six games left in the regular season.
The Five Stripes got into contention for the best record with a seven-match unbeaten streak (5-0-2) that ended against D.C. United on Sept. 2. Atlanta scored first, but D.C. United rallied to win 3-1.
"I think we played well in the first half. I thought the tie was deserved at that point and there could have been even another goal difference," Atlanta United coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said after the match. "But then in the second half I think the penalty changed things. We lost a little bit of confidence, we got down on ourselves. Then we got a little disorganized and didn't have as much control of the game."
Atlanta has a chance to turn things around in a hurry against a Colorado team that hasn't scored a goal in three matches. The Rapids (6-15-6) haven't scored since a 2-2 tie with the L.A. Galaxy on Aug. 14. They've been outscored 10-0 since and are four points ahead of San Jose, which sits in last place overall in the MLS standings.
It has been a rough first season for coach Anthony Hudson. His team has struggled since the start of the campaign and is coming off a 2-0 loss at the Portland Timbers on Sept. 8.
Still, the team's spirits are strong despite the losing streak.
"I think it was a performance worthy of something out of the game. For large parts of it we played some really good soccer," Hudson said after the loss to Portland. "We just want to keep getting better. The mood's very good. The lads believe, we've got a good group."
Colorado could have a hard time stopping Atlanta United on Saturday. The Five Stripes have scored the most goals (56) in MLS and have the biggest goal differential (23).
Atlanta United's offense is led by striker Josef Martinez, who has set an MLS record with 28 goals. He got the record in a 2-1 win over Orlando on Aug. 24 and was glad to finally get it.
"I don't know if it more special, but it is a big relief for me," Martinez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the win over Orlando. "When I went in to the locker room laughing, the guys were making jokes about it and now I can make jokes back to them."
The Five Stripes hope to be celebrating even more Saturday.
Updated September 14, 2018