Powerful Red Bulls, Atlanta United begin East finals
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Atlanta United was atop Major League Soccer for most of the season until a late surge by the New York Red Bulls propelled them to the Supporters' Shield for having the best overall record.
Even so, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas doesn't buy that Atlanta is the underdog when the aggregate-goals Eastern Conference Championship series begins Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Atlanta. The return leg is Thursday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
"For me, it's a little bit ridiculous," Armas said. "They didn't talk about too much the Supporters' Shield, the 71 points, finishing the season with five wins, the records. It's not talked about, yet all of a sudden, we're the favorites?
"It's a little bit confusing, but to be honest it doesn't matter. It really doesn't."
By all measures, the Red Bulls should be the favorites after setting MLS single-season records for wins (22) and points (71) to finish two points ahead of Atlanta United, in its second season.
"They're the best team in MLS history in the regular season, so we have our work cut out for us," Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst said. "But that doesn't mean we're scared and doesn't mean we don't think we can advance. But we're going to have to be darn near perfect."
Atlanta will try to take advantage of the home crowd, which could surpass the MLS playoff-record of 70,526 for the Nov. 11 Eastern Conference semifinal versus New York City FC.
"I think the stadium we have and the people that support us is something definitely to look forward to," Atlanta defender Greg Garza said. "Hopefully our fans can bring the (energy) in this coming game."
Atlanta forward Josef Martinez scored a regular-season record 31 goals and has added two more in the postseason.
The Red Bulls won both regular-season meetings.
The series winner hosts the MLS Cup on Dec. 8 vs. Western Conference champ between Sporting Kansas City or Portland.