Tools to the Match: How ATL UTD can stretch their unbeaten run to seven

Sitting just one point off the top of the Supporters’ Shield lead with a match in hand, Atlanta United (5-1-1) is looking to extend their unbeaten run to seven as they return to their home fortress to face the Montreal Impact (2-5-0). The Five Stripes beat the Canadian squad by a 2-0 margin the last time the two teams met at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but a new season brings new challenges for the red, black and gold. Make sure to tune in on Fox Sports South at 1:00 p.m. EST to catch every minute.

Ahead of this weekend’s match, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot:

Prevent Piatti

Since the day he arrived in Montreal, Ignacio Piatti has been the talisman for the Impact. The Argentine scored four goals in his first six games and has hardly slowed down, being named the team’s most valuable player for each of the past three seasons. A member of the 2016 MLS Best XI and an All-Star in 2016 and 2017, Piatti has picked up right where he left off: of Montreal’s nine goals so far this season, he has scored four and assisted on three of them. The man they call “Nacho” is comfortable in the middle but most often deployed on the left wing, where he looks to cut in on his favored right foot for an incisive pass or one of his trademark, lethal finishes. Focusing on eliminating a team’s primary attacking threat is a common tactic for teams with a star player, forcing a team to beat you with their less-potent secondary options. Cutting off Piatti’s route to the middle and forcing him to go wide to the byline on his weaker left foot could reduce his ability to create a moment of magic on his own.

Pile on the Pressure

After the offseason departure of longtime defensive stalwart Laurent Ciman, the Impact have struggled to replace his steady presence in their back line so far this year. Montreal have conceded the most goals in the league this season (17), including 12 in their last three matches. With two of those matches featuring red-card ejections and nagging injuries to their back line forcing constant shuffles within the defense, the Impact haven’t been able to gel fully in their back line. Zakaria Diallo –– the team’s offseason replacement for Ciman –– could make his return to the line-up at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend, but could require some game action before he gets back into match rhythm. Atlanta United will be looking to cook up another one of their early-match blitzes with their trademark counterattacking style to get on the board early, rile up the Five Stripe faithful in the crowd, and put this one out of reach before the Impact can build up confidence.

Barco on the Ball

Atlanta United’s attack has felt right at home ever since moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This has been no different this year, with the Five Stripes putting up 14 goals in 4 matches at their home fortress so far in 2018. Montreal will be fully aware of that, and considering their defensive issues this season, may look to sit back and pack their defensive third with numbers. While Atlanta United’s attack has shown they are electric on the counter, club leadership noted Ezequiel Barco’s ability to break down compact defensive lines with his dribbling skills as one of the primary reasons he was added to the club this offseason. Look out for the 19-year-old trying to get more touches on the ball this week as he continues gelling with his teammates as they try to get through what could a defensive opponent this weekend.

Follow the Match:

Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. EST, with the match set to be broadcast on Fox Sports South and streamed on Fox Sports GO. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.