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Next up for Atlanta United: Woeful Cincinnati

Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan congratulates a New York Red Bulls player after a 1-0 loss Saturday.
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan congratulates a New York Red Bulls player after a 1-0 loss Saturday.

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution opted not to attend the resumption of the MLS season in Orlando amid the COVID-19 pandemic. League safety precautions severely limit the AJC’s in-depth coverage of the Atlanta United. The following report has been compiled from television broadcast and video conference interviews.

Yes, Atlanta United lost its first game in the MLS tournament, 1-0 to New York Red Bulls on Saturday in Orlando.

Dropping those three points with just six more available in the next two games in the group stage makes advancing to the knockout rounds that much more of a challenge.

But, counterpoint, Cincinnati is in its group. Despite a roster overhaul and new coach (Jaap Stam) , Cincinnati looked again like the worst team in MLS in Saturday’s 4-0 loss to Columbus.

In the tournament’s current format, the top two teams from each of the six groups advance to the knockout round. Additionally, the four third-place teams that finish with the most points will also advance.

Next up for Atlanta United on Thursday is Cincinnati with the possibility of three crucial points.

“You know that a lot of third-place teams advance as well,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “We still will go for the first place in our group. We have to win games now. That’s what Atlanta stands for and that’s what we will do the next time. I have confidence after what I saw today that we can achieve that against Cincinnati. Still, even if you lose to Cincinnati and get a good result against Columbus Crew, you can advance to the next round. Of course, you don’t want to be in that situation. I believe we are going to have to good result against Cincinnati.”

While Atlanta United might consider itself unlucky to not get at least a draw from its game against Red Bulls, Cincinnati could not make that argument. It was outshot 13-6, with twice as many shots on goals, 6-3. It had just 38% possession and lost its duels by a 2-to-1 margin.

Atlanta United has already defeated Cincinnati once this season, 2-1, in the season’s second game on March 7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Ezequiel Barco and Emerson Hyndman scored.

Also helping is that New York Red Bulls and Columbus, tied atop the group with three points each, are scheduled to play on Thursday. If Atlanta United gets its three points, it could be in a tie for second by Friday morning.

“We’re Atlanta United and we’re expected to win every game we play in,” Atlanta United’s Mo Adams said. “Unfortunate not to get a result today I think but we have to watch tape, look for areas to improve. But it doesn’t change anything. We have to still go out and play the two games, aim to win and get out of the group stages.”

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