Tools to the Match: How Atlanta United can top the newcomers in the home opener

Atlanta United (0-1-0) are coming off a tough season opener against D.C. United, but the reigning champs are back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend against league newcomers F.C. Cincinnati (0-1-0). The last time Atlanta hosted an expansion side, they beat LAFC in a 5-0 rout last season, and the Five Stripes will be hoping to do the same as they kickstart their 2019 campaign. Click here for details on how to follow the match.

Ahead of Atlanta’s home opener this Sunday, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by Home Depot.

The Strength of the 17s

Since their first season in 2017, Atlanta United have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with around the league, but they’re even more impressive in front of their home crowd. Time after time the Atlanta faithful have filled stadiums to roar on the red, black & gold, breaking regular season, playoff & MLS Cup attendance records. They finished the 2018 season unbeaten in their last 10 matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – 13 if you include their playoff run to the Cup. And if 2018 is any indicator, last season’s season opening loss was followed by an impressive home opener, so Atlanta will look to once again feed off the energy inside the stadium and bounce back in style.

Beware of Bertone

Last week’s 4-1 loss in Seattle was less than ideal for Cincinnati’s MLS debut, but there were still signs of promise from the expansion side. At times they were able to build from the back, connect through an experienced midfield, threaten the Seattle back line, and more often than not, Leonardo Bertone was involved. The Swiss midfielder brings intelligence, composure, skill and versatility to the center of the park and he produced the moment of magic in their opener, scoring a blistering first-time volley from outside the penalty area to give the visitors the 1-0 lead and go down as the first MLS goalscorer in club history. With UEFA Champions League and Europa League experience under Bertone’s belt, Atlanta will need to be all over him to cut out their main man in the middle.

Run at the Back Line

Of last week’s disappointing result from Cincinnati, their biggest weakness could be found along the newly assembled back line. It’s difficult for any team to quickly shore up a defense and build a strong unit even with Cincinnati’s acquisitions of Kendall Waston, Alvas Powell and Nick Hagglund, who all bring a plethora of MLS experience. And while the expansion team is still finding their chemistry in the back, it’s the perfect time for Atlanta to expose that budding chemistry with their fast-paced, electric attack that scored a league-high 70 goals last season. Seattle was most effective when they pressed, forced mistakes and capitalized in transition. If Atlanta can do the same and get room to run at the Cincy back line, it could be just the spark the reigning champs need to get their season on track.

The match is set to kick off at 5 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. You can watch the match on ESPN or listen in on Star 94.1 or La Mejor Atlanta. For more details on how to follow Atlanta United’s 2019 home opener, click here.