The attacking floodgates poured open for Atlanta over the weekend, with the Five Stripes putting four past a poruos Chicago backline after weeks of final third frustration. Gonzalo Pineda’s side will need a similar performance if it’s going to hand a rock-solid Nashville SC its first defeat at newly opened GEODIS Park in the US Open Cup Round of 32.
Gary Smith’s Nashville has been a defensive juggernaut ever since it stepped foot in MLS and despite a eight-game road run to start the season, that’s no different this year. Nashville has ten goals conceded in as many games, letting in multiple in a single game just twice all year. Despite offensive struggles (it ranks 8th in the West on goals scored), Nashville is 6th on 15 points, which is even more impressive when you consider the road its taken to get there. After going 3W/2D/3L in its travel heavy start to the season, Nashville’s brand new stadium is now ready for action and it’s since picked up a draw against Philadelphia and win over Real Salt Lake at GEODIS Park.
Not only will Atlanta have to find a way past Nashville’s stuborn backline to hand it its first home loss, but the Five Stripes also have a number of attacking threats to watch out for. Hany Mukhtar (2g, 2a) and CJ Sapong (3g, 1a) are the main (and only) dangermen but it’s possible they could be rested, in which case DP striker Ake Loba should get a rare start. The 24-year-old Ivorian is yet to make a real impact in the Music City after arriving from Liga MX side Monterrey for a hefty fee last summer, but it would be no surprise if he had a breakout showing Wednesday.
Atlanta’s 4-1 win over Chicago was a welcome return to winning ways after four games without a victory, but came at a huge cost - Miles Robinson. That leaves Pineda down to his final options at centerback, at least until the summer transfer window opens. It means Atlanta’s best shot at a trophy this season may be the Open Cup but with a hectic fixture list coming up, squad rotation is a must.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Nashville SC 0-1 Atlanta United
It won’t be pretty but Atlanta will do enough to advance to the Round of 16 after a scrappy late gamewinner from Thiago Almada off the bench.