MATCH PREVIEW: Atlanta United vs Nashville SC

After two straight games against FC Dallas, the Boys in Gold face off against another familiar opponent when they take on Atlanta United. Let’s take a look at how the match could play out


Nashville SC

Nashville picked up their first 4 points of the season with a win and a draw against FC Dallas, that most would consider a success. However, the draw on Sunday left some feeling like it was two points dropped rather than one point gained. NSC now turns its sights toward an Atlanta United team that looks much different than the one the faced in February.

In the home opener, Nashville very much looked like a team that was just learning to play together and while they are still finding their groove, the Boys in Gold look to be a much more cohesive unit in the attack than they did at the home opener. There were many positives to take away from the Dallas games, specifically on the offensive side. NSC will again look to rely on their defensive solidity and ability to catch teams on the counter.

Against Dallas, Nashville played a 4-2-3-1 that would at times transition to a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 out of possession. I expect head coach Gary Smith will continue to employ the same system when they take on Atlanta United at the Benz. However, there could be a potential wrinkle, as Smith will be familiar with the tactics of Stephen Glass and could look to change things up.

Nashville may have failed to score in their second match against FC Dallas, but they created plenty of chances. Dominique Badji returned to the starting lineup Sunday but Daniel Ríos will come in to replace him. NSC will look to create chances in tight spaces rather than stretching the field. On the right, Alex Muyl should get his first start. The former Red Bulls winger will look to press high up the field, while also filling in centrally on the defensive side of the ball. Hany Muhktar will return to his preferred number #10 position with Randall Leal on the left. Leal looks closer and closer to netting his first goal and will be looking for that Saturday night.

Aníbal Godoy and Dax McCarty are possibly the best midfield pairing in the league and continue to excel together. They will have move defensive responsibility than against Dallas and will look to nullify Pity Martínez in the middle.

Nashville will look to their shutout streak on Saturday and should keep the back 5 from their previous match intact. Joe Willis will start in net with the pairing of Dave Romney and Walker Zimmerman at center-back. Atlanta will try to play a few balls over the top to Erick Torres but mostly will look to play balls in to feat. At full-back, Daniel Lovitz will have the tough task of marking Jürgen Damm. Damm’s speed will be a real threat down the right but Lovitz has proven to be a solid defender. Jalil Anibaba picked up his first start Sunday against Dallas and provided much needed solidity at the position. I expect to see him get a second start.


Atlanta United FC

Atlanta United went in to the MLS is Back tournament with a lot of hope and promise even though they were without Josef Martínez. However, his absence would prove to be a significant blow, as the Five Stripes failed to score a single goal and were eliminated in the group stage. Atlanta’s dismal display resulted in the mutual parting of ways with Frank de Boer. Stephen Glass, coach of Atlanta United 2 in USL Championship has been give the interim job and is tasked with getting Atlanta back to their winning ways.

Along with a coaching change, Atlanta United has brought in a few new players to provide some additional attacking firepower. Jürgen Damm is a pacy right winger who was brought in from Tigres right before the start of MLS Is Back but was not eligible for selection due to roster rules. Damm is officially the second fastest player in the world and will keep both Daniel Lovitz and Randall Leal busy. Up Top, MLS veteran Eric “Cubo” Torres was just signed from Club Tijuana and will be a big upgrade from Adam Jahn.

Under Frank de Boer, Atlanta United lined up in a 3-4-3 that relied heavily on the goal scoring ability of Josef Martinez and his ability to combine with Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martínez. Under interim coach Stephen Glass, they will turn to a more traditional 4-2-3-1. Coach Glass leveraged this extensively with the 2 team and it will allow him to get his most potent attackers on the field together.

Up top, Erick Torres will slot in to the striker position and try to do his best Josef impersonation. Behind him, Pity will provide service and occasionally push up as a secondary striker. On the left, Barco will look to drift in and shoot while Damm stretches the field on the right.

In midfield two, coach Glass has several options that he could turn to. Jeff Larentoiwicz could slot in as the experienced midfielder, but at age 37 he may not have the legs to keep up with an energetic Nashville team. Emerson Hyndman and Eric Remedi will sit in front of the back 4. Remedi will be the more defensive of the two with his ability to break up play and Hyndman being a bit more of a two player.

At the back, USMNT veteran and team captain Brad Guzan will be in net to organize the change in defensive shape. At fullback, George Bello will come in to his natural position on left as Brooks Lennon moves back from wingback to slot in on the right. At Centerback Miles Robinson and Fernando Meza will pair up but would not be surprise to see Anton Walkes come in for Meza.


Ben Wright’s Keys To The Game

  1. Get Mukhtar involved early. Nashville have been at their best when Hany Mukhtar is central and linking up with Randall Leal and the striker. Mukhtar puts in a shift wherever he plays, even if he’s out of position on the right. Against Atlanta’s attack there might be a temptation to play Derrick Jones at the 10 and push Mukhtar wide, but I think that sacrifices too much of what Mukhtar is good at to be worth it.
  2. Press high. We saw in the previous meeting of these two teams that Atlanta like playing out of the back and can be vulnerable at times. Bringing in Alex Muyl on the right would make a lot of sense, and even though Daniel Ríos doesn’t have the pace of Dom Badji, he’s still smart with his press. Either one of these options would give Nashville a strong pressing front four with McCarty and Godoy behind them. Take advantage of the moments when Guzan is on the ball and close down his short options, forcing him either to go long or play it into pressure.
  3. Keep the game in front of you. Nashville did a good job of this against Dallas, not letting their attackers get in behind and looking very resistant to counter attacks. Atlanta have the pace and passing to get in behind Nashville, and the defense and holding midfielders will need to stay compact to limit the space Atlanta has. I’m really interested to see how Smith uses his fullbacks. Lovitz especially likes to push forward, but they’ll need to be careful to not stretch themselves too thin.

INJURY REPORT

Atlanta United FC

OUT: Josef Martínez (ACL)
QUESTIONABLE: n/a

Nashville SC

OUT: Ken Tribbett (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: Eric Miller (adductor), Jimmy Medranda (hip)


POD PICKS

Ben Wright

Score: Nashville 1 – 0 Atlanta United
Scorers: Randall Leal
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville takes half as many total shots as Atlanta, but has the same number of shots from inside the box

Andy Simmons

Score: Nashville 2 – 0 Atlanta United
Scorers: Randall Leal, Aníbal Godoy
MOTM: Aníbal Godoy
Bold Prediction: Nashville completes at least 85% of their passes

Jonathan Slape

Score: Nashville 2 – 1 Atlanta United
Scorers: Randall Leal, Hany Muhktar
MOTM: Hany Muhktar
Bold Prediction: Randall Leal scores a late winner to get his first MLS goal.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Nashville 1 – 0 Atlanta United FC
Scorers: Randall Leal
MOTM: Randall Leal
Bold Prediction: Nashville holds Atlanta to 0 Shots on Goal

John Sloop

Score: Nashville 1 – 1 Atlanta United FC
Scorers: Hany Muhktar
MOTM: Hany Muhktar
Bold Prediction: Atlanta United equalizes in the final 10 minutes


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MATCH INFO

Date: Saturday, 08/21/20
Time: 6:00 PM, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: MyTV30, ESPN+ (out of market)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 84°/68°. Scattered Thunderstorms. 50% chance of rain. 72% humidity.