FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United shared the points in a 2-2 draw at TQL Stadium on Decision Day before heading into the 2023 MLS playoffs.
Though the two Eastern Conference powerhouses battled it out, there wasn’t too much on the line leading up to the clash as Cincinnati and Atlanta previously clinched a playoff slot. Even so, it was action packed.
It didn’t take long for Atlanta to find the breakthrough. 12 minutes in, Thiago Almada charged up the field and played Saba Lobjanidze through on goal, but an unselfish act from the Georgia international saw him grab an assist for Giorgos Giakoumakis’ 16th goal of the season. It was a simple tap-in in the end, but it was a brilliant piece of teamwork from the visitors.
But the Orange and Blue had something to say. The Five Stripes pressed hard for a second goal but on the other end of the field, Cincinnati found an equalizer through an Alvas Powell cross that Dominique Badji rifled into the top of Brad Guzan’s net.
Almada related, creating space outside of Cincinnati’s penalty area before sending in an inviting cross for Giakouamkis to pounce on that put Atlanta up 2-1. Almada notched his 19th assists in 2023 while ‘The Tank’ added to his already impressive first season in the league.
However, the home side pegged one back on the brink of half time as MLS MVP frontrunner Lucho Acosta claimed his 17th goal of the season — but in a way that most wouldn’t expect. The former DC United player (5’3″) rose above Caleb Wiley (5’11”) to head home and level the score at 2-2.
Things got off to a terrible start in the second 45 for the Five Stripes. Almada was shown a second yellow card after an off-the-ball swipe at Yerson Mosquera, and Atlanta were down to 10 men for the last 40 minutes of the contest.
Players from both sides started to rack up yellow cards, and the game was getting chippy as full-time approached. Atlanta squandered two leads on the night and lost their best player for not only the last 40 minutes of action, but also for the first game in the playoffs.
Cincinnati finished the campaign with 69 points and of course in first place in the Eastern Conference table (as well as the entire league with their Supporters’ Shield title), while Atlanta rounded out their season in sixth place with 51 points.
GK: Brad Guzan – 5/10 – Not much he could’ve done on Badji’s goal. Didn’t even make an effort to stop Acosta’s header, which was nothing new to be fair.
RB: Ronald Hernandez – 6/10 – Wasn’t in attack frequently like Brooks Lennon, but lunged in with a few well-time challenges on Acosta.
CB: Miles Robinson – 6.5/10 – Not his best night, but he made a couple great recoveries when put in a tight situation.
CB: Luis Abram – 5.5/10 – The player neither helped nor hindered his side.
LB: Caleb Wiley – 5/10 – A solid performance up until he allowed Acosta to beat him to a headed effort. Yes, the 5’3″ Lucho Acosta.
DM: Tristan Muyumba – 7/10 – The France international showed his quality once again but it wasn’t enough for Atlanta to take home three points.
DM: Matheus Rossetto – 6.5/10 – A few shaky moments on the ball, but overall a solid showing.
RW: Saba Lobjanidze – 7/10 – The left-footed player showed his quality with his weaker foot, firing off several right-footed efforts and grabbing an assist as well.
AM: Thiago Almada – 7/10 – Looked threatening just about every time he pushed forward, and it’s games likes these where you really wonder how much longer he’ll be in MLS. Didn’t help his team at all by getting sent off, though, with an necessary moment off-the-ball and away from play.
LW: Xande Silva – 6.5/10 – Dribbled around the Cincinnati backline on a few ocassions but was lacking the end product.
ST: Giorgos Giakoumakis – 8/10 – Put on a masterclass in finishing in the first half but was nowhere to be seen in the second 45.
RW: Edwin Mosquera (63′ for Lobjdanidze) – 6.5/10 – Tried to make things happen in the final third but was lacking the sharpness to make an impact.
ST: Jamal Thiare (75′ for Giakoumakis) – 5/10 – Didn’t get much time on the ball but did get booked after a pointless foul on Celentano.
DM: Ajani Fortune (75′ for Silva) – 6/10 – Had a nice run through on goal and may have been unlucky to not grab an assist.
RB: Brooks Lennon (89′ for Hernandez) – N/A
CB: Juanjo Purata (89′ for Wiley) – N/A
Gonzalo Pineda – 6/10 – His starting XI was fine, but in hindsight it might’ve been good to take off his starters after the first half. Not only would it have saved some tired legs before the playoffs, but it would’ve kept Almada available for selection for the first game of the postseason.
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