Atlanta United gives up lead, loses to Cincinnati

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada #10 scores a goal during the second half of the match against Cincinnati FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday April 20, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada #10 scores a goal during the second half of the match against Cincinnati FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday April 20, 2024. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United isn’t learning lessons from last season, or even from its last match.

After taking a 1-0 lead against Cincinnati on a goal by Thiago Almada, Atlanta United gave up two too-easy goals minutes later in a 2-1 loss to an offensively challenged team in front of an announced attendance of 42,600 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

It was Atlanta United’s (3-3-2) first loss at home this season and came one game after it gave up a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw against Philadelphia at home. It has dropped five valuable points from its past two home matches, which combined with taking just one point from its first three road matches, will make it that much more difficult to finish in the top four in the East at season’s end.

The mental mistakes and giving up a goal within minutes of finally taking a lead were very reminiscent of the team’s play last season. It may have been more galling because Cincinnati had scored just eight goals in its previous eight games. It needed the help that Atlanta United provided first with an errant corner kick from its own end, and on the second goal lackadaisical marking of two players.

“It’s not good,” captain Brad Guzan said.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda spoke on Thursday about his hope that the players have learned how to finish games after they dropped points against Philadelphia. He said he said something similar to the players after Saturday’s disappointment, calling it a “lack of understanding how to solidify the result,” he said.

Pineda selected 10 of the 11 starters who were in the lineup in last week’s match against Philadelphia. Daniel Rios started at striker with Almada at attacking midfielder, Saba Lobjanidze on the right wing, Edwin Mosquera in place of Tyler Wolff on left wing, Tristan Muyumba and Bartosz Slisz in central midfield, Luis Abram and Noah Cobb as centerbacks, Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley as fullbacks, and Guzan in goal.

Both teams wasted numerous chances in the first half, including one by Lobjanidze whose shot from two feet away was saved by former Five Stripe Alec Kann.

Pineda was forced to sub off Cobb, who began to suffer from a migraine that gave him blurry vision, and replace him with Ronald Hernandez to start the second half. Atlanta United continued to play with just two centerbacks. Hernandez said he had never previously played in a two-man centerback pairing. The move was necessary because the team had no other healthy centerbacks. Stian Gregersen and Derrick Williams, the preferred starters, were both injured.

Almada gave Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute with a curling right-footed shot from 22 yards past a diving Kann and into the lower right corner. Mosquera was credited with the assist, his second this season.

Pineda subbed on Giorgos Giakoumakis for Rios, Jay Fortune for Muyumba, and Xande Silva for Mosquera before play restarted.

Just like it did last week in allowing two late goals to the Union to turn a win into a draw, Atlanta United committed two lapses in concentration against Cincinnati that were taken advantage of.

On the first, Almada, from a corner kick, passed it up the field into space that existentially started a counterattack for the visitors. Luca Orellano finished it in the 62nd minute. Luciano Acosta was credited with the assist.

“I was speechless after that,” Pineda said.

The set piece was a play that Pineda said the team worked on during its preparation. But, with three subs who had just came on, that wasn’t the time to try it.

Acosta gave Cincinnati a 2-1 lead in the 65th minute from a simple-tap in. Wiley, perhaps respecting DeAndre Yedlin’s speed, was slow to come out to try to pressure his cross from the right. Abram stepped up the field to mark a Cincinnati player. Hernandez was left to try to defend two players. Lennon didn’t get back quickly enough to mark Acosta, who was open at the back post. He trapped the cross and had only Guzan to beat.

“You get guys running free in the box, being able to take a ball down at the penalty spot, take a touch, look at the goalkeeper from seven yards, you’re gonna get punished,” Guzan said. “You don’t get pressure to the ball wide. We don’t track runners in the middle of the box.”

The team had nothing going forward after Cincinnati’s second goal, Guzan said.

Atlanta United’s attempt to rally was complicated by Cincinnati, featuring former Five Stripes player Miles Robinson, having one of the best defenses in MLS with just seven goals allowed before Saturday.

Tyler Wolff was subbed on for Lobjanidze in the 86th minute as Atlanta United searched for the tying goal.

It didn’t come.

Atlanta United finished with 16 shots, putting five on goal. Cincinnati finished with 18 and four, and a higher expected goals total, 2.5 to 1.9.

“We need to learn from it, earlier in the season to have certain lessons, I think that could be helpful,” Pineda said.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.