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The “Run the Jewels Derby”: New York City FC vs. Atlanta United (Sunday, 4pm ET)

Winner gets a 36-inch chain.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Be it NYC or the ATL,
From the ceilings of heaven to the gates of hell...
—Michael Santiago Render

It’s New York. It’s Atlanta. Welcome to the Run the Jewels Derby.

Fitting that 2017 became the year that the mighty RTJ — beat-dropping Brooklynite El-P and Adamsville peach Killer Mike — stormed into the mainstream; it’s likewise the year that Atlanta’s brand-new MLS side went wild from the jump.

Of course, that doesn’t mean NYCFC is no longer a shiny object. Really, it’s safe to say that both of this weekend’s combatants are as shiny as a 36” chain. And whether you prefer the guadiest gold or some classic Cuban links, Sunday promises to be a gem.

Even without the services of fleet-footed striker Josef Martinez, who remains out with a quad injury, Tata Martino’s Atlanta United side heads to Yankee Stadium with plenty of swagger in its step. ATL scores goals like Killer Mike spits bars: with equal measures of agility and urgency, ready to cut you down at any moment. With a whopping eighteen goals in eight games, their tally trails only Portland in the league ranks, who have managed 20 in nine.

They haven’t needed top-line megastars like David Villa or Frank Lampard to make their mark, and that’s a credit to their model; playmaker Miguel Almiron has been brilliant pulling the strings, and their defending has stood up sturdier than most expansion teams in years past.

They must think that they’re the business. Can you blame them?

Playing the strange new role of the elder statesman — relatively speaking, anyway — New York City FC enters Sunday’s affair with a willingness to embrace change like never before. Teenage heartthrob Yangel Herrera stepped in for a struggling Andrea Pirlo and put forth a dynamic performance in last weekend’s win at Columbus, and it just felt natural. Ugo Okoli took an ailing Villa’s center forward spot and managed to acquit himself. Ben Sweat made his first-ever MLS start and brought the funk to the left fullback spot.

NYCFC has never had more options to choose from up and down the team sheet. And on Sunday, they may need standout games from just about all of them to keep pace with the ATLiens.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • If Andrea Pirlo returns to the starting XI, can Patrick Vieira figure a way to shield him from the worst of Atlanta’s pressure, which will surely be coming? Herrera may need to play a part in that.
  • ATL haven’t conceded in the first fifteen minutes. New York City has scored three in that same period. What better way to force the visitors back on their heels?
  • Jack Harrison is in rollicking form. We like his odds to put one in the net. We really do. At the very least, his ability to dance his way into the danger area and create problems for his opponents will be key to opening up lanes for Villa and Maxi Moralez.