Decision Day is here and Atlanta United heads on the road for the final time in the regular season against FC Cincinnati. The 5-Stripes are looking to carry some momentum into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, which begin next week. Atlanta can finish the season with either the fifth, sixth or seventh seed. The final seeding and Round One opponent will depend on the outcomes on Decision Day. FC Cincinnati on the other hand knows exactly where it will be seeded in the playoffs, at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Supporters’ Shield winners have clinched the top seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after a stellar regular season. They will be playing for a chance to become just the fourth team in MLS history to reach 70+ points in a regular season. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against FC Cincinnati.
Put together a full 90-minute performance
Coming off the international break, one of the keys for Atlanta will be to find its rhythm on both sides of the ball quickly. The team was in good form before the break, losing just once in its last six matches. The team has shown resilience all season long, including in the 1-1 draw against Columbus Crew right before the break, scoring in the 97th minute through Miles Robinson to earn a draw. That resilience will be needed come playoff time.
One of the other goals is to put together a complete performance. In the first meeting between the two sides at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta was in control and the dominant team for a majority of the match. The team had a lead and controlled over 58% of possession, however didn’t put the game away and Cincinnati scored twice in the final 15 minutes to secure all three points. Cincinnati is one of the best home teams in the league, so it will be important for Atlanta to control the tempo of the match and take advantage of goal scoring opportunities when they arise in order to bring back three points.
Don’t allow Luciano Acosta to make an MVP statement in this match
Whether he wears a D.C. United kit or an FC Cincinnati kit, Luciano Acosta has been a thorn in Atlanta’s side for several seasons. The Argentina midfielder has been a major catalyst for Cincinnati’s Supporters’ Shield winning season. He has scored 16 goals and added 13 assists to lead the league in goal contributions, one ahead of Atlanta’s Thiago Almada. Being the best player on the best team in the league puts him near the top of the MVP discussion as we head into Decision Day. Atlanta’s midfield and backline need to find a way to cope with Acosta’s mobility and cleverness around the box. He scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the game-winning goal in the reverse fixture. If Atlanta can shut down Acosta, that would go a long way to stifling Cincinnati’s attack and securing three road points.
Take advantage of set piece opportunities
The 5-Stripes have found a lot of success this season through set pieces. The team scored off a set piece in the final moments last time out against Columbus to secure a 1-1 draw. With the quality of service that Atlanta has, set piece goals have become a big part of Atlanta’s attack. Almada, who is looking to become the first Atlanta United player to lead the league in assists, and Brooks Lennon have provided excellent service from corners or free kicks all year. Atlanta has scored nine goals off corner kicks this year, which matches a club single-season record set last season. In this match on Decision Day, or in the playoffs moving forward, set pieces can play a critical role in who advances or who goes home. If Atlanta can continue to create scoring chances off set pieces, that would go a long way to securing a positive result.
Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app on Saturday night at 6:00pm ET when the action kicks off at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).