Atlanta, meanwhile, has turned into a blowout machine of late. While the 2-0 victory of Seattle wasn’t quite completely convincing, there could be no doubt after a 4-0 thrashing against Nashville this weekend. New sigings Xande Silva and Saba Lobjanidze got their names on the scoresheet, Tristan Muyumba held the midfield down, Thiago Almada was Thiago Almada and most surprisingly of all, the defense kept Hany Mukhtar quiet all night. That last point may be the most important as though Atlanta has had no trouble scoring this season, conceding 1.5 goals a game as it has done lowers the ceiling significantly. Back-to-back shutouts against Seattle and Nashville is a much-needed sign that the Five Stripes might have find a solution to its struggles, and keeping that trend going will be crucial to Atlanta’s chances of victory vs Cincy.
FC Cincinnati is 1st in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, 11 clear of 2nd. In the span of a mere two seasons Cincy has gone from wining a third straight Wooden Spoon to being just about a lock for the Supporters Shield in August – Saint Louis is its closest challenger at 10 points back. Head coach Pat Noonan, an ex-Philadelphia assistant, has played a major role in its turnaround, giving Cincinnati the strong tactical identity it was lacking based on a 3-4-1-2. The front-three, Lucho Acosta (12g, 8a), Brandon Vazquez (4g, 2a), and summer DP signing Aaron Boupendza (2 goals in 3 games) offer the attacking firepower, although wingbacks Alvaro Barreal (3g, 4a) and Santiago Arias (2g, 1a) have plenty of freedom to go forward as well. That’s lead to Cincinnati boasting the 3rd best attack in the East with 42 goals, but the biggest reason behind its success-filled season has been its defense. Cincy went from the 3rd worst attack in 2022 (1.64 goals conceded per game) to the 5th best in 2023 (1.12 gpg). Recent arrivals in the shape of DP defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo and on-loan Colombian centerback Yerson Mosquera have become pillars of Cincinnati’s backline and turned the 2-2s of 2022 into 1-0s and 2-0s in 2023 – in fact, eleven of its sixteen wins have been decided by a sole goal.