Hernandez goal lifts Atlanta United to draw with Cincinnati

Team’s first game since Gabriel Heinze was fired on Sunday

Ronald Hernandez’s first goal for Atlanta United earned the team a 1-1 draw and valuable point at Cincinnati on Wednesday.

In interim manager Rob Valentino’s first game after the firing of Gabriel Heinze on Sunday, Atlanta United’s winless streak reached nine games but it showed a spark missing most of this season. Its offense looked more crisp with quicker passing and sharper moves, particularly in the second half. It had season-highs in shots (22) and shots on goal (nine).

Its defense had some wobbles but goalkeeper Alec Kann made several tough saves to keep the team in the game until it could find a way to earn the draw. He made five saves.

Atlanta United (2-4-8) will host Columbus on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I’m so proud of them,” Valentino said. “I feel they did the club proud and the city proud and I’m looking forward to coming home on Saturday.”

Valentino made at least three gambles with his first starting 11. First, Josef Martinez wasn’t in the starting 11 but did make the game-day roster. Second, Hernandez, normally a right-sided fullback, made his first start on the left on a backline that included Brooks Lennon, Anton Walkes and Alan Franco. The midfield was composed of Amar Sejdic, Santiago Sosa and Marcelino Moreno, with Jackson Conway, the third gamble because he was making his first start, Jake Mulraney and Machop Chol as the forwards.

Atlanta United tied the game in the 70th minute on the goal by Hernandez. The play started with a nice combination between Mulraney and Lennon, who continued his run through the penalty box and toward the end line. He hit a low cross back across the penalty box. The ball was touched by Chol but kept going where Hernandez met it with his right foot for his first goal. It was Lennon’s second assist and Chol’s first this season.

“I’m very happy to score my first goal for the club and also very happy to help the team during this moment,” Hernandez said.

It offset a goal by Luciano Acosta in the 61st minute. Acosta, a problem for Atlanta United and the referees all the night because of his theatrics, got away from Sosa, crossed back across Walkes and curled in a right-footed shot to give Cincinnati a lead.

“The game, the way it played out, when we end up getting the goal, do we manage this or push this?” Valentino said. “I wanted to push it.”

So it did, and could consider itself unlucky to not score another. Cincinnati goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer stopped three tough shots late, one by Mulraney that was headed to the upper left corner, one by Martinez that was headed to the lower right corner and one by Moreno that was headed to the right corner.

Atlanta United started brightly.

Mulraney put the first shot on goal in the opening two minutes. Moreno followed with a free kick that skimmed off the top of the crossbar in the 11th minute. Conway put a shot at Vermeer in the 22nd minute after a nice pass into space by Moreno.

Kann made his second save after Acosta, who has played very well against Atlanta United in past games with D.C. United, got behind Hernandez but was too close to Atlanta United’s goal.

Kann, in for Brad Guzan who is with the U.S. men’s national team at the Gold Cup, was forced into another save in the 27th minute when Hernandez was pulled into the middle on the left side of Atlanta United’s defense. The ball from the left was played into Isaac Atanga, whose shot was saved.

If not Kann in the first half, and Vermeer in the second half, the game could have been a shootout.

“I’m not going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers,” Kann said. “If not for him, I thought we could have scored four or five goals. He kept his team in the game and I’d like to think I did in the first half.”

Atlanta United started the second half well, highlighted by two shots by Moreno. The first shot, from 12 yards, went wide; the second from 40 yards was pushed wide by Vermeer.

Chol followed with a right-footed curling effort in the 53rd minute that went just wide.

Atlanta United caught a bit of luck in the 53rd minute when a shot by Alvaro Barreal hit the post, came back and hit the back of the diving Kann, and rolled across the goal and out for a corner kick.

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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 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta 1, Cincinnati 1

Saturday 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 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

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