Atlanta United must defeat Cincinnati ... probably

So, yes, Atlanta United has had a few must-win games this season, but this time Atlanta United’s must-win game really is a must-win game. Probably.

Because it didn’t win the previous few must-win games, it now has to defeat Cincinnati on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium or its season is done. Probably. Yes, it will still have one game to play, but it likely won’t have any bearing on the team making the MLS playoffs.

To recap, for the nth time in the past few weeks: Atlanta United is in 12th place in the 14-team East. It has 19 points. Ten teams make the playoffs. Atlanta United trails 10th-place Chicago by two points. Between Atlanta United and Chicago are Inter Miami and D.C. United, which have 21 points each. If any of those teams win this weekend and Atlanta United doesn’t, it can’t finish with enough points to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive season. It’s possible that each of the teams could lose but it’s unlikely. Then again, in 2020 anything seems possible. Chicago plays at Nashville on Saturday. Miami plays at Toronto and D.C. United plays at New England on Sunday.

Atlanta United has at times seemed like it has led a charmed life in its first three years, with an MLS Cup in just its second season and U.S. Open Cup last year. It seems highly improbable that every result will go its way this weekend. That’s why it must defeat Cincinnati. That is the only thing it can control.

“We know the different scenarios that if we get points this weekend, we keep next weekend alive,” interim manager Stephen Glass said.

Glass said the players, as they have been, even during their current six-game winless streak, are in good spirits.

“Credit to them and their mentality they are ready and prepared for game on Sunday,” Glass said. “I’m hopeful the results change for that reason, that they get some sort of reward.”

What would really lift the team’s spirits is if it can score first. It is 5-0-0 this season when it scores first. It is 0-12-2 when it doesn’t.

“There’s a collective mindset that we can, we will and we are going to get three points,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.

Glass hasn’t held back with his lineup choices the past two games, both of which also were described as “must win." He has started what he considers his highest-powered lineup with Designated Players Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno, as well as midfielder Matheus Rossetto and the speedy Jurgen Damm.

They have combined to score zero goals in those games. The two goals scored in the past two games came from Jon Gallagher and Erick Torres, each of whom came off the bench to keep hope alive in the final minutes of losses to D.C. United and Orlando.

Glass has changed the striker in the past two games, trying to create a spark. Torres started against D.C. United and was ineffective. Adam Jahn started against Orlando. He also was ineffective.

Glass said that is part of the bigger problem. Both players perform well in training, which is why they earn the start. But then when they start, it’s the player who comes off the bench who makes more of an impact.

Asked if he’s considered starting another player at striker, or going with a false nine formation, or anything else, Glass said they have considered a lot of things but felt throwing out the things the team has worked on would be wrong.

“A lot of our play, up until final decision or final ball, has been pretty good,” he said. "I do think we get into so many positions ... that final execution hasn’t quite been been there.

“It’s got to come this weekend, or there’s not many weekends left for it to come.”


Atlanta United coming games

Sunday vs. Cincinnati (4-13-4), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (10-5-5), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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