The race to the postseason is going full steam, and Atlanta United (15-11-3) are hungry to get back on the field and back in the win column. Their next opponent is 2019 newcomers FC Cincinnati (6-21-3), and with every point crucial in the push for home-field advantage, the Five Stripes will be looking for all three in their first trip to Nippert Stadium.
Ahead of the big intraconference match, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Lock up the Back
Atlanta United is known for their free-flowing attack, and they’ve earned that again this year with some stellar goals this season. But their two major pushes up the table this year came from major contributions from the defense. In May they went on a 7-2-0 run, and every win came in a shutout, as did their 6-1-0 league run in August. Leandro González Pirez’s return from suspension will be a boost for the back line, but defending is a team game. The old adage is defense wins championships, and this team has shown they can be as good as anyone in the defensive third. If they can get back to their lockdown best, it will make it much easier for the attack to create a match-winning moment.
FC Cincinnati is already out of postseason contention, but showed they are happy to play spoiler over the weekend against playoff-hunting Montreal. And with a loud Cincinnati crowd eager to play spoiler to the reigning MLS Champions, any momentum they build will prove to be a catalyst for the home team. Scoring the first goal is key in any match, but even more so when the team is on the road. Getting off to a fast start will put a damper on the home atmosphere and could take the sting out of the match against a team without postseason aspirations for which to fight.
Shake off the Rust
It’s been a bit of a stop-start season, with fixture congestion followed by long breaks. And while the international break provided some valuable time off for the legs, you could see a little bit of rust with uncharacteristic loose touches and passes over the weekend. Players and coach alike refused to make excuses, but did says after the match they have to get back to the sharpness and ruthlessness that defined their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. This team has historically responded emphatically whenever they’ve hit a setback. If they can use Saturday as a motivational wake-up call and get back to what they showed before the international break, they’re a tough team to handle for any team –– at home or on the road.
Atlanta United may have clinched their spot in the postseason this weekend, but they’re still hungry for all three points as they continue their push for home-field advantage in the postseason. Every match is crucial from here on out, so if you can’t make the trip to Cincinnati, click here for all the ways to tune in from home.