Match Preview: Atlanta United at FC Cincinnati

The home stretch of the regular season is coming quick and fast, and with two matches in four days coming up, it’s another crucial week for Atlanta United. The Five Stripes are hungry for redemption after their home loss to Columbus Crew SC over the weekend, and they get another chance quickly as they travel to face FC Cincinnati for their first matchup ever at Nippert Stadium. The MLS Newcomers are out of postseason contention, but would love nothing more than to play spoiler to the reigning champs –– and with just five regular-season matches remaining, every 90 minutes is crucial for the red, black and gold.

It all kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on Fox Sports South. If you can’t make the trip, click here for all the ways to tune in.

Atlanta United (15-11-3)

Atlanta United officially clinched their spot in the postseason for the third straight year this week, but their goals for this year go well beyond that. Now it’s all eyes forward as they look to land home-field advantage in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Though those hopes hit a bump in the road against Columbus over the weekend, the team is eager to put that behind them and push on to finish the season strong.

Josef Martinez is expected to lead the line as his record-breaking streak continues. He’s now scored in 14 straight games, blowing the old MLS record of nine out of the water –– but any fan who’s watched him over the past three seasons knows he’s hungry for more. Pity Martínez has been the mainstay next to him, looking to combine off the striker and create a moment of magic in the final third. Ezequiel Barco has been out of the roster with injury, but if he’s still held out on Wednesday, Emerson Hyndman has slotted in perfectly in the attacking midfield position behind them. And of course they’ll be opening up spaces on the wings for the likes of Justin Meram and Julian Gressel, who is now 5th in the league in assists since he joined in 2017.

But every road match is a challenge in MLS, and it will require a performance from back to front. Darlington Nagbe and Eric Remedi have been the starting central midfield partnership this season, though Jeff Larentowicz has filled in seamlessly and is fully prepared if his name is called. And the back line has been the best in team history so far this year in regards to shutouts, and it will have a key player returning with Leandro González Pirez serving his suspension for yellow card accumulation last week. Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar both finished this weekend’s match fit and healthy, while Florentin Pogba has shown he’s ready to protect Brad Guzan in the Atlanta United goal. After a disappointing outing last time out, they are eager to show the form that pushed them up the table this Summer, so look for a relentless, aggressive back line on Wednesday.

FC Cincinnati (6-21-3)

FC Cincinnati may be out of the postseason picture this season, but they showed this weekend they aren’t going down without a fight with a road win over playoff-chasing Montreal.

There could be a familiar face lining up for the opposition, with former Atlanta United left back Greg Garza making his return recently for the home side. That’s one defensive leader returning, but there will be another missing as Costa Rican international and MLS veteran Kendall Waston is suspended for the match after his red card over the weekend. Look for Cincinnati native Nick Hagglund to replace him in the starting lineup, with Leonardo Bertone looking to slow the attacking momentum from the center of midfield.

Bertone lines up next to the most critical player in the FC Cincinnati lineup in Costa Rican international Allan Cruz. A true box-to-box midfielder, the 23-year-old former Herediano midfielder brings solidity and technique into the Cincinnati midfield, and he gets forward as well with his six goals leading the team so far this season. Matching him this season in goals is a quick, technical winger with European experience in Argentine Emmanuel Ledesma, who will be looking to feed speedster Darren Mattocks behind the Atlanta United back line. It was Mattocks who scored the equalizer for Cincinnati at Mercedes-Benz Stadium earlier this year, and his track record in MLS shows he has a nose for goal. If the Atlanta United midfield can clog the connection between those three key attacking players, it will go a long way toward extending their team record for most clean sheets in a season –– and secure a big three points in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.

With a postseason berth secured, it’s all eyes on home-field advantage for Atlanta United  –– and every point now is crucial to that goal, so this is a match you certainly won’t want to miss. If you can’t make the trip to Cincinnati, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.