Match Preview: Atlanta United FC

ATL Match Preview

Following a five-game home stand at Nippert Stadium, FC Cincinnati will play their final two matches on the road, starting at Atlanta United FC. Here’s what you need to know ahead of Sunday night’s match:

How will FCC respond following Wednesday?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that FC Cincinnati will make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. There’s still a mathematical possibility, but the Orange and Blue need too many results – and wins with huge score lines to overcome a bad goal differential – to secure a spot in the postseason.

So, how will the club respond against Atlanta, and, more importantly, after the disappointing home finale on Wednesday night? That’s the big question entering Sunday night’s matchup.

Cincinnati beat Atlanta, 1-0, in the MLS is Back Tournament in July, when Frankie Amaya scored his first professional goal, but the stakes are drastically different for this game.

For starters, both clubs sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But beyond that, FCC implemented a back five to grind out a result – a formation the club ditched earlier this month for a preferred 4-3-3.

“Back in Orlando we beat them, and this time around we’re going to try and do the exact same,” Brandon Vazquez said. “We’re going to try to come home with three points and end the season off as strong as possible.”

Stam: “They’re in the same circle.”

Atlanta, the 2018 MLS Cup champions, sits 13th in the Eastern Conference standings – one spot above Cincinnati.

The club that was once the frontrunner of what expansion success should resemble is struggling, but its form doesn’t match its quality, FCC head coach Jaap Stam said.

“It’s a very big club and they still have a good team, although at the moment it’s not the easiest times for them,” he said. “They’ve still got quality players in their squad. In a lot of games I’ve seen, they’ve made it difficult for opposition … They’re in the same circle in not winning the games we want to (win).”

Vazquez, who played for Atlanta last season, said he’s eager to play against his former team – days after he agreed to a multi-year contract extension with Cincinnati.

“It’s always exciting to play against your old club,” the striker said. “It’s going to be cool to see old friends. Playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is always an amazing experience, so I’m excited to go back, get some minutes and score a goal on them.”

Looking toward next season

“It’s not like these two games can make up the whole season,” Stam said. “That’s not the case. Still, we’re looking in making progress in how we want to play.”

With playoff hopes dashed, attention can turn to 2021. And, in a sense, Stam can use the next two matches to hint at how he’d like to see the team play next campaign.

During his pre-match interview Friday afternoon, he hinted that he’s “quite quick” to know which players he wants on his roster ahead of the 2021 season opener next Spring.

“I’ve already completed my way of thinking quite early,” he said. “There’s nothing new. I knew for myself quite quick what I want.”

He did say that these matches can allow the team to know which positions will be the priority to upgrade, though.

“(Playing well in these last two games) can give you a good feeling that maybe we only need to tweak a couple of things or only make a couple of changes,” the coach said. “Hopefully that can help us out massively going into the next season. If we can up a certain way of playing in the next two games … that gives you a good feeling.”

Match Info

FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC

When: Sunday, 7 p.m.

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Weather: Indoor stadium

TV: WSTR Star 64

In-Market Stream: www.fccincinnati.com/stream

Out-of-Market Stream: ESPN+

Local Radio: WDJO 99.5 FM | 107.9 FM | 1480 AM

Audio Stream: TuneIn App | www.fccincinnati.com

Eastern Conference standings

10. Chicago Fire FC | 21 points

11. Inter Miami CF | 21 points

12. D.C. United | 21 points

13. Atlanta United FC | 19 points

14. FC Cincinnati | 16 points
Club Connections

- Greg Garza played two seasons with Atlanta United FC in 2017 and 2018, making 37 appearances. Garza helped the club win the MLS Cup in 2018

- Brandon Vazquez played for Atlanta from 2017-2019, accumulating 31 appearances and three goals. Vazquez helped the club win the MLS Cup in 2018.

- Rashawn Dally played with Mo Adams and Lagos Kunga in 2019 with Memphis 901 FC. All three were on loan.

- Austin Berry, FCC’s strength and conditioning coach, played with Jeff Larentowicz on the Chicago Fire in 2013.

- Frankie Amaya and Andrew Carleton both played for the U.S. Under-20 National Team in 2019.

- Garza, Joseph-Claude Gyau and Emerson Hyndman all played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2015.

- Tommy McCabe and Jon Gallagher played for the University of Notre Dame together in 2016 and 2017.