After two seasons of turmoil, 2022 was shaping up to be the first relatively normal year at the Benz in a while with Gonzalo Pineda in charge from day one. But the Five Stripes’ hopes of a smooth campaign are fading fast. Along with wave after wave of injuries, Atlanta hasn’t shown the season over season improvement we might have hoped for and with a number of starters still out, that might not change anytime soon. Nonetheless, Atlanta is very much in the mix in the Eastern Conference, which looks just as jumbled as ever. Of course, that would all change if Atlanta stops taking care of business at home, where it has two wins and a draw. A visit from eleventh-placed FC Cincinnati should add another three points to Atlanta’s tally, but not much has gone the way it should have this season.
Despite its lowly ranking, Cincinnati has made some improvements from its third-straight Wooden Spoon winning season in 2021. Ex-Philadelphia Union assistant manager Pat Noonan took the reins in Ohio, but the roster remained largely the same - Dom Badji, Junior Moreno, and Alec Kann were the only major additions while DP midfielder Obinna Nwobodo was added just days ago. Noonan has obviously been weighed down by one of the league’s worst rosters but so far Cincy is at least showing some signs of life. Defensively it remains a mess, with 14 goals conceded good enough for third-worst in the East but Cincinnati is middle of the pack in the final third and just one goal below Atlanta.
Brandon Vazquez (5 goals, 1 assist) is the main danger man, with Luciano Acosta the primary chance-creator (43 shot-creating actions). The duo is just about the only attacking firepower Cincinnati has to offer and when they aren’t on form, Cincy is toothless. When they are, they’re capable of scoring against anyone but that doesn’t happen week in, week out. Cincinnati has been shut out three times but has multiple goals in each of the three games it has found the net in. And considering the effect of the Curse of the Ex, we can just about be certain that Vazquez in particular will cause his old club problems.
Atlanta’s loss to Charlotte means it stays 4th on 10 points, 6 behind leaders Philadelphia and 2 above the red line. Most concerning, however, is the prospect of two months without Josef and an attack as toothless as last weekend. Cincinnati's porous backline is the ideal opponent for newcomers Thiago Almada and Ronaldo Cisneros to find their footing, but the Five Stripes will need to come out with a completely different intensity than against Charlotte.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 1-1 FC Cincinnati
Atlanta will take the lead via Thiago Almada but eventually let Cincinnati back into the game before Vazquez snags a second-half equalizer.