Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer selected a lineup featuring nine of the 11 players who started the 3-0 loss at Monterrey in the Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday. The two changes were Julian Gressel, back from a one-game injury, at right wingback for Mikey Ambrose, and Jeff Larentowicz in for Darlington Nagbe. For many of the starters, it was their fifth game in the past 18 days. De Boer said he selected a strong lineup because it was the first home game in front of what was expected to be a large crowd.
Much of the talk about Atlanta United since the season started with a 3-1 loss at Herediano in Champions League play has been the familiar lack of oomph on offense.
The team put just two shots on goal in a 2-0 loss at D.C. United in last Sunday’s league opener and followed with just one in Wednesday’s loss at Monterrey. Those results were the first time in franchise history that the team had been shut out in consecutive games and the first time since 2017 that it had lost back-to-back games.
“The group is disappointed right now, it’s been a tough run of games, the last three,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “We haven’t reacted well enough and we haven’t performed well enough on the field. We need to look things over. We need to talk as a group. The good thing is we have another opportunity on Wednesday but we have one of the best teams in North America coming to our house.”
Atlanta United had four shots on target against Cincinnati, an expansion side playing just its second game. But the team’s first shot on goal happened to be its most important on Sunday.
Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 5th minute on its first shot. Gressel slotted a perfect, curling pass of 30 yards to Martinez, who made a run between Cincinnati’s centerbacks, and he hammered a right-footed shot into the upper corner. It was Martinez’s third goal this season, first in league play. It was Martinez's 51st goal in MLS, and Gressel's 24th assist.
Atlanta United continued to dominate with 70 percent of possession but was unable to do anything with it with just three shots on goal through the first 55 minutes.
“They were tucked in quite good and it was difficult to create chances,” de Boer said. “I think, then we have to recognize to play a different style and have runners behind their last line. In the second half we created more chances than in the first half.”
Atlanta United finished with seven chances created, six in the first half.
Cincinnati thought it had the tying goal in the 55th minute, but Fanendo Adi’s header was pulled back because he was judged to be offsides.
Other than the banner, which is difficult to see because it’s in a dark corner, the other highlight may have been the reception Greg Garza received upon entering the game in the 70th minute. Garza played for Atlanta United the previous two seasons. He was traded during the offseason.
Cincinnati finally broke through when Kenny Saief dribbled around Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and put Lamah in on goal.
“Everybody is very disappointed in the result,” de Boer. “In the 85th minute you’re still 1-nil up and it’s really the first chance they get. You have to also recognize that you don’t play your best but you have to win those games to get the confidence.”
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