On Tuesday, Atlanta United’s commanding win over F.C. Motagua advanced them to the quarterfinals of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, but there is no time to celebrate with a match on the road against Nashville SC just four days later. Although this will be Nashville’s inaugural MLS match, there’s no guarantee it will be an easy win for the Five Stripes.
Ahead of the team’s first road test in the 2020 season, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot.
Stop McCarty and Overpower Zimmerman
For some of Nashville’s players, this will be their first MLS match. But for Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty, it will be business as usual. Zimmerman, a Georgia native with seven years of MLS experience, is coming off a season that saw him named an MLS All-Star and to the MLS Best XI. In his two seasons with LAFC, he recorded five goals and two assists while appearing for the US National Team as well. In 2019, LAFC led the league in goals against, allowing only 37 goals. Atlanta’s attack will need to bring their best game to get around Zimmerman.
McCarty, a two-time MLS All-Star, brings 14 years of MLS experience to a team that skews young. The midfielder has made 13 appearances for USMNT, including captaining the side vs. Chile in 2011. The true test for this young team will be how well they follow the leads of their more experienced players and if they can capitalize on the team chemistry exhibited during training camp. Working as a unit, Nashville SC will prove to be a tough test for Atlanta United.
During the opening leg of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League on February 18th, Pity Martinez offered a glimpse of the player who was voted the 2018 South American Player of the Year after helping Club Atlético River Plate win the 2018 Copa Libertadores. That spark caught fire this past Tuesday during the second leg against F.C. Motagua during which Pity scored two goals and assisted on one more to secure a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Entering his second MLS season, Martinez is poised to produce for a team coming off a season in which they won the U.S. Open Cup and the Campeones Cup. It appears part of this resurgence can be attributed to Pity developing a rapport with Atlanta’s record-breaking scorer, Josef Martinez. Together, the “Martinez Brothers” accounted for all three of Atlanta’s goals on Tuesday, as well as the three assists. This tandem could be unstoppable if the camaraderie continues to grow.
Coming off an exciting 3-0 victory earlier in the week might make it hard for Atlanta to focus on their MLS opener. However, the team needs to put the opening round of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League behind them and quickly look ahead to Saturday. Hoping to win their first MLS opener since the club was founded in 2017, Atlanta United is looking to start the season on a high note.
Atlanta United’s first MLS match of 2020 will kick off at 8:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, February 29 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee and will be televised on Fox.