Atlanta United travels to TQL Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon for the final match of the regular season against FC Cincinnati. While the 5-Stripes have not mathematically clinched a spot in the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, it would take extraordinary things for them to fall out of a playoff spot. A victory or a draw will secure the playoff spot. Even a loss by a small margin would keep Atlanta in the playoffs. The 5-Stripes do have a chance to move up the table into the top-4 and secure a home playoff berth with a victory and a NYCFC loss to Philadelphia. So some scoreboard watching will be required on Decision Day. But first, let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against FC Cincinnati.
Impose your style of play on Cincinnati
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for Atlanta United in the second half of the season. Atlanta United have earned the second-most points in the Eastern Conference (35) since the middle of July. Only the New England Revolution (46) have earned more points in that time frame. Atlanta has done that by playing it’s style of soccer. They lead the league in possession (57.3%) and have created 195 chances from open play since July 18, which is tied for the fourth-most chances created in that time frame. Atlanta needs to come out early and impose its style of play on Cincinnati and convert the chances that it creates. The team’s record when scoring the first goal this year is 11-3-6. Scoring early and often will be one of the keys to Sunday’s match.
Watch out for Acosta and Brenner
While FC Cincinnati sit on the end of the table, they still have dangerous playmakers that can hurt you. One of the them is midfielder Luciano Acosta, who has been a thorn in Atlanta United’s side dating back to his days with D.C. United. Acosta leads Cincinnati with nine assists and has created the most chances (76) on the team heading into Decision Day. Several of his assists have gone to Cincinnati’s top striker, and record signing Brenner. The Brazilian forward leads the team with eight goals this year after a move from Sao Paulo last offseason. Former Atlanta United striker Brandon Vazquez has also contributed in the attack with five goals.
Atlanta United’s defense, which is one of the top defenses in the league, has only allowed a couple of goals from open play in the last few matches. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan ranks second in the league in save percentage and will be looking for his 11th clean sheet of the year on Sunday.
Capitalize in the Final Third
The 5-Stripes are among the best teams in MLS in terms of passing accuracy in the final third. They have been combining well in those areas, passing at a 74.1% clip. They need to turn those passing combinations into scoring opportunities and shots on target. The attack had a difficult time in the team’s last match vs. Red Bulls. Atlanta will look to bounce back on Sunday and create more scoring opportunities. Once in the final third, Atlanta’s strikers and attacking midfielders will have to test Cincinnati’s defense. Cincinnati has conceded the most goals in the league this season (72). Atlanta has outscored Cincinnati 5-1 in the previous two meetings this season, and will look to add to that tally on Sunday.