Tools to the Match: How Atlanta comes home with a positive result this weekend against FC Cincinnati

Atlanta United is back on the road this weekend when it travels to take on FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium on Saturday night. Atlanta enters the weekend two points below the playoff line in a crowded Eastern Conference table. Cincinnati comes in four points above Atlanta in sixth place, but the 5-Stripes have one match in hand on Cincinnati. After a dramatic last second victory against the Seattle Sounders last week, Atlanta is looking to carry over that momentum into this weekend’s match and win back-to-back MLS matches for the first time this season. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against FC Cincinnati.

Take home form with you on the road

Six of Atlanta United’s seven total wins this season in MLS have come at home. In order for the 5-Stripes to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, they are going to need to carry that home form onto the road to earn enough points to climb above the playoff line. Atlanta’s sole road victory this season came on Apr. 2 at D.C. United.

One of the big keys will be to not concede a goal early on the road. In seven of the team’s 11 road matches this season, Atlanta has conceded the first goal. In four of those matches, the opponent has scored inside the first 15 minutes. Atlanta’s defense needs to be ready and switched on from the start against a good FC Cincinnati attack. Getting through the first 15 minutes without conceding a goal will be key to success.

Keep eyes on old friend and familiar foe

Pat Noonan has done a tremendous job in his first season at Cincinnati. The long-time Philadelphia Union and LA Galaxy assistant has come in and transformed Cincinnati’s fortunes. The team already has more wins this season (8) than in any previous season. The team’s 40 goals scored is also already the most in a single MLS season for the club. Cincinnati features an old friend to Atlanta fans as forward Brandon Vazquez is having a breakout season. The young forward was a member of the 5-Stripes from 2017-19, but his production has ticked up this season as he ranks second in the MLS Golden Boot race with 14 goals.

Many of his goals have been assisted by a very familiar foe for Atlanta, midfielder Luciano Acosta. Before joining Cincinnati, Acosta played with D.C. United and was a menace in matches against Atlanta during his time there. In 12 career matches against the 5-Stripes, Acosta has scored six goals and added three assists. Atlanta’s defense needs to be aware of where Acosta is at all times and close down his space so he can’t create chances for his teammates.

Take advantage of transition moments

One of Atlanta’s strengths over the years has been the transition attack. On the road, the 5-Stripes need to take advantage of those transition moments, especially this weekend. While FC Cincinnati has scored 40 goals (t-5th in MLS), they have also conceded 43 goals (25th in MLS). Several of their games have been wide open, high-scoring affairs. That’s where Atlanta needs to utilize its quality and speed in the attacking third. Atlanta ranks fourth in MLS with 15 shots from fast breaks. They have also accumulated 613 touches in the opponents’ penalty area, which is the fourth-highest mark in MLS. One of the keys for Atlanta to collect points on the road is to be more clinical with the chances it gets, especially early in the match. Atlanta is 7-2-2 this season when scoring first. Do that on Saturday night, and there’s a good chance three points are coming back home with the 5-Stripes.

Fans can tune-in locally on Bally Sports South on Saturday night as Atlanta United travels to FC Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. ET. Click here to learn how to watch, listen and live stream Saturday's match.