Atlanta United tough stretch continues with Nashville

Nothing seems easy for Atlanta United this season with its MLS schedule.

The heat of Florida at Orlando and at Miami. At a very good New England team only to have two key players leave with injuries in a loss. Then a surging Montreal at home followed by flying across the country to play Seattle, considered the league’s best team.

Finally, comes the yellow, or in this case one-off Adidas parley blue, wall that is Nashville at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

The Music City men, one of the three remaining unbeaten teams in MLS, haven’t allowed a goal in 408 minutes. It’s the longest streak in the league this season and is 97 minutes from breaking into the top 10 in league history. During the past 408 minutes, opponents have put only seven shots on goal.

“Tough test for us and tough to break down,” Atlanta United fullback Brooks Lennon said. “Hopefully, we can be the first to do so.”

What makes Nashville so tough is it plays in a 4-4-2 formation, with the two blocks of four working very well together to occupy the space of the field, Atlanta United manager Gabriel Heinze said. If the ball comes inside, the players within the formation will come together to restrict the space. The players within the formation, led by Lawrenceville native and centerback Walker Zimmerman, have good defensive skills and work well together, according to Heinze.

Montreal was the last team to score against Nashville, more than four games ago. The goal came in the 42nd minute. It was the second goal Montreal scored and provided some clues as to what it might take for Atlanta United to do the same.

Both goals started with Nashville turnovers in its half of the field. They ended with shots that glanced off the underside of the crossbar, efforts that likely couldn’t be replicated if the players had 10 chances to shoot.

Even though both plays started with a turnover, Nashville still had enough players behind the ball that, if not for the pinpoint accuracy of the shots, the threats weren’t nearly as great as they first seemed.

But they were scoring opportunities.

Cincinnati, which scored two goals against Nashville in Week 1, took a different path. Its first goal was the result of one-two passing near the top of the penalty box that bypassed Nashville’s back line. That is a tactic that Atlanta United hasn’t used much in games. The second came from a penalty kick won after putting goalkeeper Joe Willis under pressure with the ball at his feet.

During this tough stretch of games Atlanta United has shown an ability to create a goal from difficult circumstances. Lennon earned a penalty kick in the final minutes of a 1-1 draw at Seattle. Marcelino Moreno scored in the final minute of a 1-0 win against Montreal. The team finished with a 1-1 draw at Miami after an early goal by Josef Martinez. Its three-game unbeaten streak was something it couldn’t produce last season.

Now, it must crack Nashville.

To do so will require the gumption the team has shown until the ends of games and different types of runs and movement than were attempted against Seattle and Montreal, which featured five-man back lines, according to Lennon and Mulraney.

“You just have to try to drag people out,” Mulraney said. “Make runs off the ball to try and break them down. Everyone’s tried that as well.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN

June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE

June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE