Yangel Herrera could get his second consecutive start for NYCFC vs. Atlanta United. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

Given its impressive start, Atlanta United hardly falls into the category of your typical Major League Soccer expansion team.

United might be in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but the Georgia-based club is off to a 3-3-2 start and New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira is wary of the first-year side when it visits Yankee Stadium Sunday at 4 p.m.

“I think it will be a tough game,” he said. “When you look at Atlanta, with the individual talents they have, we’re expecting a difficult game.”

Josef Martinez, Atlanta’s leading goal-scorer (five), won’t play because he is recovering from a quad injury. So the visitors will look to Tito Villalba (four goals), Kenwyne Jones, Yamil Asad and Miguel Almiron (all with two goals apiece) to provide impetus to the attack.

“We will make a mistake if we only concentrate on one player – when you look at all of the players they have up front, all of them can make a difference,” Vieira said.

Atlanta has earned the most points of any team on the road this season (8) with a 2-1-2 record including wins over Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake as well as draws at Seattle and Toronto, the two clubs who appeared in MLS Cup last season. Their only away loss away came in Montreal via a late stoppage-time goal.

“As a team, they work really hard, they don’t give you much time with the ball,” Vieira said. “We have to be sharp, we have to be ready because they have talent and can hurt any team in this league.”


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Fifth-place City (4-3-1, 13 points) is coming off a 3-2 comeback victory at Columbus Crew SC last week as Jack Harrison struck twice, including the game-winning goal, and Yangel Herrera’s first MLS score.

“We just have to be consistent in the result and in the way we want to play,” Vieira said. “The second half in Columbus really pleased me because we were brave, we pressed them really high and we managed to win the ball higher which gave us more chances of creating opportunities and scoring goals.

“Our mindset has to be right from the start of the game and I think if we manage to do that, we will be good.”

Herrera took the place of Italian World Cup winner and veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo. With Herrera poised to join his Venezuelan teammates for the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea, it would not be surprising if he starts Sunday’s encounter. He will miss a minimum of three games, if not more, depending on how well the South American side fares in the competition.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.