Atlanta United’s top-four dreams have been dashed, but the Five Stripes still have one more outing to go to fine-tune everything before the postseason begins. Depending on results, Atlanta could either rise or fall one spot as well, so there is at least something tangible still up for grabs when it visits FC Cincinnati on Decision Day.
That’s not the case for Cincy, which clinched the Supporters Shield two games ago but can’t quite reach the 74 points needed for a new single-season record - it’s currently at 68. No one will be complaining, however, considering just how far Cincy has climbed in recent years. Only two seasons ago Cincy was hoisting a third straight Wooden Spoon, and now lays claim to being the best team in MLS (across the regular season at least). The arrival of ex-Philadelphia Union assistant Pat Noonan as head coach and Chris Albright as general manager spurned Cincy on to success, following but not copying the Philly model.
Although Cincy has run away with the Supporters Shield in terms of results, it hasn’t been as dominant as one might expect. Its attack ranks 5th best in the East while its defense is 2nd best, very good numbers but not usually Supporters Shield numbers. Cincy’s ability to consistently pick up three points in games that end in a draw for 9 out of 10 teams has made the difference - 15 of its 20 wins have been by the difference of just one goal. Cincy’s star power is a large reason that’s been possible. Luciano Acosta is the figurehead with 16 goals and 10 assists, and the deserved MVP frontrunner. Brandon Vazquez (8g, 2a), Alvaro Barreal (5g, 5a), and summer arrival Aaron Boupendza (5g) form quite the frontline around Acosta and will give Atlanta’s backline quite the test.
Speaking of Atlanta, it will finish anywhere from 5th (win and hope New England draw/loses vs Philly) to 7th (if Atlanta loses/draw and Nashville beats New York Red Bulls) and play any of Orlando, Columbus, and Philadelphia in the first round of playoffs. Of those teams, the Five Stripes have only beaten one (Philadelphia) this season, lost three, and drawn twice. Playoffs, though, are another animal entirely and if Atlanta can get some momentum and confidence by pulling off a result at the Shield champs, it could have what it needs on and off the pitch to make a run.
Atlanta leads the all-time series with a 5W-4D-2L record, although it fell to a 2-1 defeat in the reserve fixture this season and hasn’t beaten Cincy since 2021.
Predicted Started XIs
Prediction: FC Cincinnati 1-2 Atlanta United
Atlanta will return the favor and edge out Cincy 2-1 thanks to goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Xande Silva, although Brandon Vazquez will get one back on his old team.