Preview: Atlanta United vs Nashville SC

After a 10 day break in action, Nashville SC will take the field once again. As part of MLS Heineken® Rivalry Week, the Boys In Gold will travel to Atlanta to take on the Five Stripes in a nationally televised contest Saturday afternoon. They’ve shared the points so far this season, drawing 2-2 in both their prior matches. Can either team get the first win of this season’s El Ribereño?

Atlanta United

This Atlanta side is in a much different place than in previous meetings. New manager Gonzalo Pineda will take charge for the first time since his hiring. The former Seattle Sounders assistant comes to Atlanta highly rated, with prior interest from DC United.

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Interim manager Rob Valentino turned things around after Gabriel Heinze’s firing, and he’ll remain on staff in an assistant role. Under Valentino, Atlanta are unbeaten in their last four matches. Even more importantly, Josef Martínez is back and firing on all cylinders, scoring three goals in his last five matches.

Individual performances aren’t the only ones to improve sans Heinze. Atlanta have scored 12 goals since he left (sixth-best in the league), and only New England has earned more points in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into the match, Atlanta find themselves in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, tied on points with DC United for a playoff position and in the best form of their season.

They’ve reverted to a back three setup, and it plays quite similarly to Nashville’s. Miles Robinson is key to building out of the back, as he showed with an assist in their first meeting this season. His performances in MLS and at the Gold Cup have him firmly in the mix for a starting job with the national team, and his time in MLS appears to be limited. He’s an elite athlete and the best open-field defender in the league. He’s a match for any attacker in the league, and will be tasked with keeping Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong quiet.

Marcelino Moreno is another Atlanta player in form. The Argentine playmaker scored against Nashville in the previous fixture, and he’s found the net four times since Heinze left. Paired with Matheus Rossetto in midfield, he’s able to get forward in a double pivot that offers more creativity than perhaps any other midfield in the league.

“We’ve had two games already against Atlanta,” said Nashville head coach Gary Smith. “I know there have been one or two personnel changes. Maybe players coming back from injury that weren’t around in our last game, and of course a coaching change. We’re not going to know what changes tactically within that group, but I would suspect with four wins on the spin that there’ll be a lot of confidence in the group, and there will be some similarities from their last three or four games.”

Atlanta have a hefty injury report. Emerson Hyndman, Mo Adams, Jake Mulraney, Franco Ibarra and Santiago Sosa will all miss tomorrow’s clash, and all five have been starting-caliber players. Still, despite their early struggles, this is an Atlanta team that can compete with anyone in the league for talent. Barco, Moreno and Araújo each commanded transfer fees in the Top 25 in MLS history, and their supporting cast is as good at is gets.

Their struggles to start the year certainly have them behind the eight ball, but their table position isn’t an accurate reflection of their quality.

Nashville SC

Nashville SC come into the match two points out second place, but despite their table position, this feels like a match in which they need to answer some questions. While they’ve allowed a league-best seven goals on the road, they have yet to win away from home and average just seven points while not at Nissan Stadium. With a hugely back-loaded away schedule, three points would be a major confidence booster.

Head coach Gary Smith has used some version of a back formation since the start of July. What initially seemed like a way to cover for Walker Zimmerman’s absence has now lead to the best attacking form Nashville has seen. Hany Mukhtar and CJ Sapong play up front with plenty of freedom, while Randall Leal sits slightly deeper to connect the midfield and forward lines.

While set piece defending has been one of Nashville’s few consistent weaknesses this year, they’ve actually been really solid at the back on the road. They’ve kept clean sheets in three of their away matches this year. Against an Atlanta side that’s resurgent in attack, Nashville will need to keep things tight at the back.

Nashville’s injury list is much less daunting than Atlanta’s. Dax McCarty is the only consistent starter who will miss the contest, as he and Matt LaGrassa are both in the league’s health and safety protocols. McCarty would have missed the match anyway with a yellow card suspension, so his absence has been planned for. Additionally, winger Handwalla Bwana is out with a concussion, but the 21-year-old has played just 117 minutes all season, and hasn’t featured since a 2-0 loss to New York Red Bulls in mid-June.

Without McCarty, Brian Anunga should slot right back into center midfield. He’s been a consistent part of the squad in 2021, typically a first option off the bench. He’s started eight matches so far this season, and paired with Aníbal Godoy, he’s a more than adequate option, and maintains the level Nashville expect in midfield.

Nashville and Atlanta have played twice this season. Both games have resulted in 2-2 draws. In their five meetings in MLS, the two sides have combined for 15 goals. While certainly a less hostile rivalry than Nashville and Cincinnati, El Ribereño matches don’t disappoint (yes, we’re sticking with that name).

Availability report

Pod Picks

Ben Wright

Score: Atlanta 1-1 Nashville
Scorers: Daniel Ríos
MOTM:  Daniel Ríos
Bold Prediction:  Daniel Ríos comes off the bench to score a late equalizer against the run of play.

Davey Shepherd

Score: Atlanta 2 – 3 Nashville
Scorers: CJ Sapong, Aké Loba, Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction:  Josef Martínez scores a brace, but Mukhtar notches a goal and two assists for the Nashville win.

Andy Simmons

Score: Atlanta 1 – 2 Nashville
Scorers: CJ Sapong, Aké Loba
MOTM: Aké Loba
Bold Prediction: Loba comes off the bench for the game-winner.

Chris Ivey

Score: Atlanta 1 – 1 Nashville
MOTM:  Aníbal Godoy
Bold Prediction: Nashville scores their equalizer off of a set piece.

Josh Young

Score: Atlanta 1 – 1 Nashville
Scorers: Hany Mukhtar
MOTM: Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Mukhtar scores from a goalmouth scramble or a penalty kick, and Alex Muyl comes off the bench and gets a yellow card.

Lucas Panzica

Score: Atlanta 1 – 2 Nashville
Scorers: C.J. Sapong, Hany Muhktar
MOTM:  Hany Mukhtar
Bold Prediction: Hany Mukhtar wins the game with a penalty kick.

Fan Forecast

Kit matchup

Match Info

Teams: Atlanta United (8th) vs Nashville SC (3rd)
Power RankingsAtlanta United (16th) vs Nashville SC (5th)
Odds: Atlanta (+115), Draw (+230), Nashville (+220) via BetMGM
Date: Saturday, August 28
Time: 2:30 PM central (kickoff at 2:50 PM), Mercedes-Benz Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
TV:  Univision/TUDN, Twitter (livestream)
Radio: 94.9 The Game 2 (English); El Jefe 96.7 (Spanish)
Forecast: 89°/72°. Partly cloudy. 24% chance of rain. 79% humidity.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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