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Atlanta United earn first point of the season in home opener

Atlanta United made its long-awaited return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, earning their first point of the MLS season after a 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati Sunday.

Head coach Frank de Boer made two changes to the lineup that started against CF Monterrey midweek, with Julian Gressel making his return from injury at the right wingback position. Jeff Larentowicz also made his first MLS start of the year in the middle of the field in place of Darlington Nagbe. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Brek Shea (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Ezequiel Barco (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Pity Martinez (FWD).

It was a night of pageantry before the opening whistle, as the team unfurled a banner to celebrate last year’s MLS Cup Championship as part of Atlanta United’s first match since raising the title last year. And the celebrations went into the match itself, with the Five Stripes getting on the board almost immediately. It was a combination that was so effective last season: Jeff Larentowicz swung the ball to Julian Gressel on the right wing, who played an early through ball behind the defense and into the path of Josef Martinez. The reigning goal king was ruthless from there, slamming a near-post finish past the goalkeeper for his first in MLS this season.

From there, Atlanta United dominated possession of the ball, camped out in the opponents’ half for the remainder of the first half. But chances were hard to come by against a compact defense, with the Five Stripes only able to muster four shots on target in the match. Andrew Carleton, Darlington Nagbe and Kevin Kratz all came on to try to secure the match-clinching second goal, but the Five Stripes couldn’t get the insurance goal –– and FC Cincinnati made them pay against the run of play. Just minutes before the final whistle, an incisive pass released Roland Lamah behind the Atlanta United back line and he slid home the equalizer with the team’s first shot on target of the match.

The Five Stripes kept pressing until the final whistle, but couldn’t find the crucial breakthrough and had to settle for a draw in front of a packed house of 70,382 fans. The team will have to get straight back to action at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night, as they host Mexican giants Rayads in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League on their home pitch. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.

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