After earning an admirable draw on the road last time out, Atlanta United now return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they will be looking to get the better of a resilient Nashville SC outfit (3.30pm ET Saturday). The visitors will be hoping to extend their unbeaten start to the new season. Can they? Read on for our matchup predictions, picks and full preview.
When their exit from the CONCACAF Champions League at the hands of fellow MLS side Philadelphia Union was rapidly followed by defeat to New England Revolution, Atlanta looked out of sorts. It wasn’t easy to envisage them going through an extend period of struggle, though that’s not been the case.
In recent weeks, under the stewardship of once hardy defender Gabriel Heinze, Atlanta have scrapped their way to making it four games without a defeat. Only one of those four has ended with the Five Stripes in front, though spirited away-day draws against both Inter Miami and Seattle are not to be sneezed at. It’s clear that they are no easy side to get the better of, and if they can add a few more goals, a run at the play-offs should be within their grasp, which is not something that could be said last season.
Nashville no pushovers
Right from the moment they stepped into MLS, Gary Smith’s men have been both sturdy and tough to dismantle. They are one of the more organised and pragmatic outfits in the US, so they don’t score a tremendous amount, but they’re capable of restricting teams and keeping clean sheets, something that in MLS in general, isn’t commonplace. Saturday’s visitors come into this fixture having shut out the opposition in each of their last four games. Seattle is the only team in Major League Soccer to concede less goals than Nashville this term.
Firing on all cylinders isn’t the way to describe Atlanta at present, and there is work that needs doing in the final third, but it should be said that their best two efforts, especially in the final third, came at Mercedes-Benz Arena, so the return home bodes well for the Five Stripes, who have notched four goals in two matches in their own backyard this term. Not only have they won two out of two at home, but they have also posted a positive expected goal difference, which is always a good thing.
Lack of creativity?
Nashville is very much up there with the best defensive sides in the division, while there are few better teams when it comes to preventing teams from creating scoring chances. However, their defensive strength does perhaps hamper their attacking threat. Saturday’s visitors have scored in only two of their last four, scoring a rather measly total of three goals. Last time out on home soil, Nashville created plenty when beating Austin by a goal to nil, but in the three games prior to that success, they weren’t exactly generous in terms of what they produced offensively, delivering expected goals for numbers of 0.7, 1.0 and 0.7. Such numbers aren’t likely to strike fear into the hearts of the hosts, that’s for sure.
Hosts worth the money?
Atlanta have slowly gathered momentum in recent weeks and it appears as though they’ve been presented with a decent opportunity to extend their 10% home record. Punters can cash in by siding with the hosts on the moneyline, which currently has an Atlanta victory priced around the +130 mark, which may just be a tad generous for a few reasons.
For starters, the best attacking efforts of the Five Stripes this term have arrived in their own backyard, while Nashville’s recent attacking numbers are concerning. What’s more, the only away-day that the visitors have had this term produced their worst offensive effort. When they took on Real Salt Lake a fortnight ago, Smith’s outfit failed to score, produced just 0.7 xG for, while they registered only three shots on target, their lowest total of the campaign.
Conversely, as touched on previously, Atlanta have delivered two decent efforts at this venue, scoring four goals in two matches, averaging 1.3 expected goals for and 14 shots per 90. There’s probably not a great deal between the pair defensively, at least not based on what we’ve seen in recent weeks, but Atlanta’s extra attacking ability is enough to see them through in front of a home crowd.
Attractive player prop
After swapping Edinburgh for Atlanta, Jake Mulraney has taken a while to warm to MLS, but after finding his feet last term, it looks as though the Irishman is ready to make a serious impact this time around. The 25-year-old, who has been operating mainly in an advanced position on the right, is yet to find the net in MLS this season, but he is getting close and is producing some decent numbers. Should he start the game, as he has done in four out of six this season, averages of 0.32 expected goals for per 90 and 2.31 shots per 90, make Atlanta’s number 23 look like a solid candidate for a small ‘anytime scorer’ bet at appealing odds.
So our preview’s Atlanta vs Nashville predictions look like this: