This Saturday, Atlanta United makes its highly anticipated return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium after opening the MLS season with a win in Nashville last weekend. After winning the season opener for the first time since the club was founded, the Five Stripes look to continue their winning streak against FC Cincinnati at home this weekend. Atlanta is 1-0-1 all-time against Cincinnati with the tie coming in last year’s home opener.
Ahead of the team’s home opener, we took a look at the Tools to the Match, presented by the Home Depot.
Stop Cincinnati’s New Look Attack
Despite losing its season opener 3-2 to the New York Red Bulls, Allan Cruz and Brandon Vazquez combined for Cincinnati’s first goal of the season. The goal came 10 minutes into the second half on a counter-attack. Cruz, who had a breakout season last year for FC Cincinnati with seven goals, is a central midfielder who provides another goal-scoring threat that Atlanta United will have to slow down in order to secure the win on Saturday. Of Cruz’s eight MLS goals, five have come within the first 10 minutes of either half. Both of Cincinnati’s goals came in the second half, so if Atlanta can repeat its second-half shutout of Nashville SC then the team should be in a good position to win.
Vazquez, a former Atlanta United player, made his debut for Cincinnati last weekend. After playing backup to Josef Martinez his first three seasons in the league, Vazquez is ready for more consistent playing time to prove his worth. Saturday will be Vazquez’s first return to Atlanta since being selected by Nashville SC in the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft then being immediately traded to Cincinnati. With the addition of two designated players, Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo, Cincinnati is ready to make its mark in the MLS.
Rely on the Team’s Depth
Losing their star player to an ACL injury might be devastating for most teams, but Atlanta United made strong moves in the offseason to build on a roster already teaming with talent. Newly acquired Fernando Meza led the team with 91.4 percent passing (47-of-53), and Jake Mulraney showed off some impressive footwork in his MLS debut.
Young talent took the lead in the team’s season opener as both goals were scored by players under the age of 24. Ezequiel Barco scored Atlanta’s first goal of the regular season in the ninth minute against Nashville SC. Barco’s power and speed will be necessary Saturday as the team is 6-1-1 in games where he has scored. Emerson Hyndman scored Atlanta’s second goal of the match, and the second MLS goal of his career, to secure the victory against Nashville. Atlanta will need to rely on its young, talented roster to overcome the loss of Josef Martinez.
Feed off the Crowd
Home-field advantage is a phrase that gets bandied about often in the sports world, but is particularly valid for Atlanta United. The 17s, as they’re affectionately known, have helped Atlanta break nearly all MLS attendance records since the club began play in 2017. The club’s supporters will be rowdy and proud at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just like they were on the road at Nissan Stadium for the season opener.
The 17s have helped Atlanta United to an impressive 34-7-10 record at home in MLS regular season play. Lifted by the fun, loud atmosphere they bring to the stadium, Atlanta looks to head into next week’s Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal with a 2-0-0 MLS record.
Atlanta United’s home opener, presented by Mercedes-Benz, will kick off at 7:00pm ET on Saturday, March 7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia and will be televised on Fox Sports South.