ATLANTA — For the second week in a row, FC Cincinnati found itself down two goals in the second half. And for the second week in a row, despite some in-game adjustments, a comeback effort came up short.
The Orange and Blue fell 2-1 to Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday in the Five Stripes home opener in front of 69,301. The loss keeps FC Cincinnati (0-2-0) in search of its first points of the season with the scene shifting to Nippert Stadium in a week.
“The guys played very well,” interim coach Yoann Damet said. “I’m disappointed for them tonight. They put a lot of energy, a lot of hard work on the field. I think they respected the plan really well. I think we created some chances, tried a lot.
“I’m very, very proud of the guys. The guys have showed growth from last week.”
Atlanta (2-0-0) jumps to the top of the Eastern Conference table in the early season. In its first game without 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez, the biggest question was where it would find offense. All three of Atlanta’s goals against FC Cincinnati in the series prior to Saturday came from Martinez.
After threatening for a bit, Ezequiel Barco punched home a cross from Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez in the 21st minute to give Atlanta a 1-0 lead.
FC Cincinnati almost equalized right before the half. Allan Cruz sent a diving header at goal, but Brad Guzan got a glove to it and knocked it away. And Yuya Kubo gave attempted service into Joseph-Claude Gyau, but the timing was off.
Atlanta doubled its lead in the 54th minute. Emerson Hyndman shifted past Maikel van der Werff and beat Spencer Richey near-post.
“Hyndman cuts back inside and just as he takes that quick touch, I’m trying to move a little bit to my left to reset on that angle, and he puts it right back down low where I was,” Richey said.
Preventing early deficits will come with more minutes together, Damet said.
“It’s the little mistakes that comes with automatism,” he said. “The players, they have to understand each other. There is some automatism that is getting better. It’s little details in the defense on the two goals that Atlanta scored. It’s all about how we shore up and the plan — how we execute. I think the players showed that they are able to adjust to the gameplan and to apply the gameplan.”
Just like last week in New York, FC Cincinnati fought back.
Kubo and Adrien Regattin, entering as a sub for Gyau, had shots blocked. Then Kubo pulled one back in the 64th minute with a brilliant knuckleball strike that left Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan flatfooted. It was Kubo’s first MLS goal.
“That’s exactly where I aimed, but also I didn’t expect Guzan to not move,” Kubo said through an interpreter.
Said Damet, “I’m very happy for Yuya. It took some time to get acclimated to the environment, to the team, to the playing style. Being positioned on the left side is also something that he has to deal with.”
FC Cincinnati continued its search for an equalizer. Regattin came close in the 75th minute off a backheel from Mathieu Deplagne, but Guzan made a diving save.
The difference between the club’s inaugural 2019 MLS season and this one can be seen in these comeback efforts.
“We have the sensation that sooner or later, we can score,” center back Kendall Waston said. “Last year we were lacking that. Now we have more faith. We believe more that we can create things with players we have. I keep believing in this group.”
Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Result: Atlanta United 2, FC Cincinnati 1
Atlanta United Starting XI (3-4-2-1):
Brad Guzan (C) (GK), Anton Walkes, Fernando Meza, Brooks Lennon, Jake Mulraney, Emerson Hyndman (goal 55′), Laurence Wyke, Eric Remedi, Gonzalo Martinez, Adan Jahn, Ezequiel Barco (goal 21′)
Bench: George Bello, Jeff Laurentowicz (80′ Mulraney), Luiz Fernando, Mohammed Adams, Matheus Rossetto (67′ Martinez), George Campbell (44′ Campbell), Alec Kann
FC Cincinnati Starting XI (4-1-4-1):
Spencer Richey (GK), Kendall Waston (C), Greg Garza, Mathieu Deplagne, Maikel van der Werff, Frankie Amaya, Allan Cruz, Haris Meudnjanin, Yuya Kubo (goal 64′), Joseph-Claude Gyau, Jurgen Locadia
Bench: Adrien Regattin (61′ Gyau), Brandon Vazquez (80′ Amaya), Andrew Gutman (80′ Garza), Przemyslaw Tyton, Tom Pettersson, Fatai Alashe, Caleb Stanko
ATL — 21′ Ezequiel Barco (Gonzalo Martinez)
ATL — 55′ Emerson Hyndman (Ezequiel Barco, Gonzalo Martinez)
CIN — 64′ Yuya Kubo (Adrien Regattin)
CIN — 4′ Kendall Waston (yellow, foul)
CIN — 34′ Greg Garza (yellow, foul)
CIN — 53′ Frankie Amaya (yellow, persistent infringement)
ATL — 75′ Matheus Rossetto (yellow, foul)
CIN — 89′ Allan Cruz (yellow, foul)
vs. DC United, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nippert Stadium