The teams, squaring off for the first time at Nippert Stadium on Wednesday, were deadlocked at 0-0 in the second half, with FC Cincy looking like the better side as the second 45 unfolded. This, despite the 2019 MLS expansion team sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
But a series of missed chances and near-goals from Cincinnati proved costly on the night, as Josef Martinez notched a quick-fire brace in the 59th and 65th minutes – the second goal particularly impressive – to give Atlanta full points in a 2-0 win.
Asked to reflect on the result immediately after the final whistle, FC Cincinnati head coach Ron Jans conceded both the chances that went begging and Atlanta's ruthlessness cost his side.
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"Atlanta is the better team, more comfortable on the ball, but I think we lost today because of two things," Jans told the Cincinnati broadcast. "Our finishing was very poor, they played us like animals, with a lot of heart and [Josef Martinez] showed how you can finish, and on the second goal I even applauded it because it was a great goal.
"It was Martinez who won the game for Atlanta, we showed our best but we could have got more from the game if we did the finishing better than we did."
FC Cincy midfielder Joe Gyau was left lamenting the swing the game took even with the home side controlling swathes of it.
“I felt like it was a tough loss," he told reporters after the game. "It could have gone either way with the way the chances were. I thought that the first half, if I put my first one away, and we also had one off a corner kick. If we put those away, we could have gone up early, but we didn’t. And well, you know, they have Josef Martinez. He put his two chances away and that’s how the game went.”
Atlanta, coming off a shock loss to Columbus Crew SC over the weekend, were pleased they rolled with the flow of the match and took advantage of an opening when they saw it.
"I am still satisfied about the form because when they park two buses in front of their own goal, it is quite difficult to create chances," Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer explained after the game.
"We had the patience. You saw in the first half that we, I think, one or two times lost patience and directly get a counterattack against us. After that, corner and they had the chance...I think we did much better, and you see when they open up a little bit, like the first goal, that we can punish them. I think the most important thing is that we are playing concentrated and we showed in the last five minutes of the first half that we were creating some small chances. And I said, just be patient."
Like the opposing coach, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan believed the difference between the teams came down to his side's superiority.
"It wasn’t anything more than our quality on two plays. We know we’ve got talented guys, but at the same time we knew we were going to have to work. In the first half, aside from the set piece, they barely crossed midfield. For us, it was always going to be important to break them down, and in the second half, it started to open up a little bit. Like I said, our quality in those two plays was very good,” Guzan explained.