Match Preview: Atlanta United vs Montreal Impact

It’s a long-awaited return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Atlanta United Saturday, who get a chance to bounce back from their midweek loss just three days later as they host the Montreal Impact. The Impact sit in second place in the East after back-to-back home wins over the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, but the Five Stripes are hoping a return to their home pitch can help them secure all three points to keep closing the gap to the top of the conference leaders.

The match kicks off at 6 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Fox Sports Southeast. For all the details on how to follow the match, click here.

Atlanta United (8-6-2)

Atlanta United are just days off a tough stoppage-time loss on the road in Toronto, but a side that has won nine out of its last twelve matches has plenty of reason to feel confident coming back into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s been four weeks since the Five Stripes last played on their home pitch, and they’ll be looking to feed off all the energy the 17s can give on Saturday.

With Josef Martinez still on international duty with Venezuela, it’s become Brandon Vazquez’s time to step up in his teammate’s absence. With four goals in two Open Cup matches, and the key pass in the team’s second goal in Toronto, he’s done just that so far. Pity Martinez, who got his second goal of the season on Wednesday, has lined up with Dion Pereira or Justin Meram behind the striker on the wings, with Darlington Nagbe pushing forward into the middle of the field. And it will be one or both of Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz  adding the steel in midfield to compliment the attacking options.

How the back line will set up will depend on the availability of Franco Escobar, who did not make the trip to Toronto. Miles Robinson and Leandro González Pirez have been the center back pairing of choice in front of Brad Guzan with Michael Parkhurst and Brek Shea covering the flanks with Escobar in the fullback ranks. It’s a defensive unit that is eager to prove Wednesday’s three goals conceded were an anomaly for a team that still has the best defensive record in the Eastern Conference. With five straight clean sheet victories at home coming into Saturday, they’ll be hoping to keep that streak alive with another lockdown defensive showing in front of the 17s back in Atlanta.

Montreal Impact (9-7-3)

The Impact are an in-form side after a two-match home stand against the Sounders and Timbers, coming out 2-1 winners over the Western Conference contenders in both matches.

With the Impact’s longtime talisman Ignacio Piatti out with a long-term injury, others have had to step up. It was 21-year-old Orji Okwonkwo who came up big with two goals versus the Timbers on Wednesday. But the most consistent performer has been Algerian winger Saphir Taider, with the former Inter Milan winger scoring a team-best seven goals so far this season. He’s a player who likes to dribble at defenders, and he’ll be looking to link up with MLS veteran Maxi Urruti, whose clever passing from the striker position can find those runs coming in off either wing.

They’ll be expected to line up in their usual 3-4-3, with former Manchester City and Arsenal fullback Bacary Sagna looking to get down the flanks from his right wingback role. Ken Krolicki has been a constant in the midfield, bringing defensive workrate and the ability to push the ball forward in possession. And it’s an experienced back line behind them, with Victor Cabrera, Zakaria Diallo and Rudy Camacho in front of longtime MLS goalkeeper Evan Bush. It’s been a consistent trio all season long that have helped them up into second place in the East as it stands. But there could be vulnerabilities in a side that has conceded 29 goals so far this season, the fourth most in the Eastern Conference.

It’s a much-anticipated return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Five Stripes against an Eastern Conference opponent, so it’s one you won’t want to miss. Tune in at 6:00 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports Southeast –– or click here for all the ways to catch the action.