Match Preview: Atlanta United FC

Optimism prevails around Mercy Health Training Center following FC Cincinnati’s season-opening loss to the New York Red Bulls.

While it was a loss, it was a step forward for Cincinnati. After a tough first half, the team rebounded with two goals in the second half and fielded a formidable side against New York in the final 45.

Now, the Orange and Blue are hoping for a similar performance – but this time, instead with points gained – Saturday night against Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Maintaining momentum

Before Sunday’s defeat, Cincinnati hadn’t scored twice in a second half since the 2019 home opener. But with goals from Allan Cruz and Jürgen Locadia, FCC showed promising signs of attacking quality that the club hopes to carry over into Atlanta.

“I thought the first half was a little complicated for us,” forward Brandon Vazquez said of the first game. “We didn’t go out the way we wanted to. But in the second half, we showed we were the better team and we almost had that comeback. Unfortunately, we didn’t. If we keep playing like we played in the second half, we’ll be fine.”

Interim head coach Yoann Damet will have plenty attacking options to use against Atlanta. Joseph-Claude Gyau is back from a one-match suspension that carried over from 2019, while Locadia is training with his teammates for the first time since FCC were in Florida during preseason.

How do Atlanta United FC respond to losing their MVP?

Photo by Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Josef Martínez is one of the league’s top players. Now, he’s the player Atlanta will miss most after the Venezuelan tore his ACL last weekend against Nashville SC.

Calling the injury a blow would be an understatement.

“The odds must be unlikely that if the same sequence were to happen 1,000 times the result would be the injury,” wrote Atlanta Journal-Constitution sportswriter Doug Roberson. “This parallel isn’t exact, but I would guess the probability to be the same as to Martínez coming to Atlanta United and becoming what he has become: the best striker in MLS history.”

So, what does Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer do without his club’s best player? While there’s plenty of quality on the home side’s roster, there’s also a massive vacancy that needs to be filled.

The big-picture takeaway from this game will be how Cincinnati progresses entering the home opener next Saturday at Nippert Stadium. But how this game finishes could very easily be determined by whether or not Atlanta can or can’t recreate Martínez’s goal-scoring capabilities. 

Back in old confines

Greg Garza spent two seasons with Atlanta and helped the club lift the 2018 MLS Cup. Three months later, he returned to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and received a standing ovation from the sold-out, 70,000-fan crowd.

“Seventy thousand people giving you a standing ovation is something that I’ll never forget within my career,” Garza told reporters Wednesday afternoon following practice.

Saturday night means a return for Garza and Vazquez back to their former club. For Vazquez, he was also on the 2018 MLS Cup-winning team and helped Atlanta win the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Players facing their old clubs is actually pretty common, but it’s not often that two players return to their old club after winning trophies there. This is only a minor footnote in the match, but it’ll be interesting to hear the crowd’s reception of Garza and Vazquez.

Match Info

FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Weather Forecast: Partly Sunny, 59 degrees

Local Video Stream: FloFC

Out-of-Market Stream: ESPN+

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

Audio Stream: TuneIn App, fccincinnati.com

Player to Watch and his Health Carousel Player Resume

Opponent’s Player to Watch: Ezequiel Barco

Without Martínez, how does Atlanta respond? Very few teams could lose one of the league’s best players and still manage success, but Atlanta is one of them.

Barco is a young, lively winger awaiting a breakthrough season. Only 20 years old, he’s entering his third MLS season and was the league’s record signing when he signed in 2018.

He’s only scored four goals in each of the last two seasons, but scored last week in Nashville. Can the Argentinean finally have a monster season? Maybe, but preferably not in matchups with Cincinnati.

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.
  • Adam Jahn played with two FCC players at two different clubs. Fatai Alashe and Jahn were on the San Jose Earthquakes in 2015 and 2016, while Kekuta Manneh and John played for Columbus Crew SC in 2017.
  • Austin Berry, FCC’s strength and conditioning coach, played with Jeff Larentowicz on the Chicago Fire in 2013.
  • Saad Abdul-Salaam and Alec Kann were at Sporting Kansas City in 2016.
  • Frankie Amaya and Andrew Carleton both played for the U.S. Under-20 National Team in 2019.
  • Garza, Joseph-Claude Gyau and Emerson Hydnman 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.
  • Between 2010-14, Siem de Jong played for Frank de Boer at AFC Ajax. De Boer is Atlanta’s current head coach.
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