It’s been two weeks since Atlanta United closed its toughest road trip of the season undefeated and with optimism abounding. But now, as the Five Stripes prepare to embark on yet another two-game away stint, the mood around Gonzalo Pineda’s side is significantly dampened. A visit to Nashville SC seems to be the opposite of what the doctor ordered to cure the Five Stripes’ stupor, but the onus is on Atlanta to figure it out anyway and show that the last two games were mere blips.
It’s not so much Atlanta’s results (although those are worrying as well), but the performances which have nosedived of late. First, it was out-played by Chicago Fire, scoring early but losing control as the game progressed, only to be bailed out by a stoppage-time winner and Chicago’s own deficiencies. There was no such forgiveness from Memphis 901, however, which took full advantage of Atlanta’s disappearance after opening the scoring to dump the Five Stripes out of the Open Cup Third Round. Losing out on the chance for another trophy and CCL ticket was bad enough, but most concerning was the way Memphis dominated Atlanta for almost all 120 minutes Wednesday. Even with squad rotation taken into account (and Atlanta still played at least 6 players expected to be somewhat reliable pieces this season), there’s no excuse for that whatsoever against a team ranked 8th in the USL Eastern Conference.
The Five Stripes now look to bounce back against Nashville SC, in the midst of a typical Nashville season. It’s 6th in the Eastern Conference (after a one-year journey in the West) with 12 points - 3 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses, and a +3 goal differential. Nashville was also in Open Cup action over the midweek, beating San Antonio FC 1-0 (of course) with a heavily rotated XI. Gary Smith’s side is as boring to watch dedicated to keeping games close as ever, and only 2 of its games all season have featured both teams scoring, with only one featuring more than 2 goals. Nashville’s defense remains its stronghold, with a very impressive league-leading mark of 5 goals conceded and 5 shutouts. Its attack, on the other hand, has regressed from 1.52 goals per game last season to 0.89 gpg so far in 2023. The 8 goals it has scored match up almost exactly with its expected goals of 8.1, so the problem lies in chance creation rather than finishing.
Hany Mukhtar remains the main and just about sole attacking outlet with 3 goals and 3 assists, while winter signings Fafa Picault (1g, 1a) and Jacob Shaffelburg (2g) have had success as pacy wingers. Striker, however, is a glaring weakness for Smith’s side. Nashville’s DP striker Ake Loba left on loan to Mazatlan in Liga MX after 2 goals in 40 games, while the remaining forwards, veterans CJ Sapong and Teal Bunbury, have combined for 0 goals and 67 years of age this season. In fact, Sapong was traded to Toronto for a center back and GAM just this past week, setting the stage for the arrival of a DP summer signing to fulfill Nashville’s striker needs. Until then, though, it’s Mukhtar or bust.
Atlanta trails the all-time series with a 2W-3D-3L record and hasn’t won since August 2020, picking up 3 losses and 3 draws since then.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Nashville SC 1-1 Atlanta United
Nashville has scored just 1 goal in its last 3 home games, tallying a 2W-2D-1L record at GEODIS Park. That trend will continue Saturday in a one-all draw, with goals from Mukhtar and Almada.