New on Sports Illustrated: Atlanta United-Nashville Preview

September 13, 2020 at 08:59AM

It has taken three-plus seasons, but Atlanta United is finally looking like an expansion side. The Five Stripes look to shake out of their funk at the expense of an actual first-year club Saturday when they seek a third win in as many matches against Nashville SC.

Atlanta United (3-5-2) burst onto the MLS scene in 2017 and in many ways has been a model franchise for the 25-year-old league. The Five Stripes won the MLS Cup in 2018 and did the double of the U.S. Open Cup and Campones Cup last year.

This season, however, little has gone right. They lost leading goal-scorer Josef Martinez to a torn ACL in their season opener and fired coach Ronald De Boer after a poor showing at the MLS Is Back tournament.

It remains to be seen if selling midfielder Pity Martinez to Saudi side Al-Nassr is part of a teardown or a shrewd business deal considering they made a profit despite underperforming in his season-plus, but Atlanta entered the weekend eighth in the East with more points (11) than goals (9).

"I think the main thing for us is to not chase every single game that we're in. Going down a goal every game is tough," defender Brooks Lennon told Atlanta United's official website after a 2-1 defeat at expansion side Inter Miami on Wednesday night. "This is a common theme that we don't start well. We give away early goals and we're always trying to come from behind and we need to change that narrative. We need to come out from the first minute and be on top of teams because you see out there that we can do it."

Atlanta has led just once in its last eight matches, taking just five points from those games (1-5-2). The Five Stripes did have a chance to pull level just before halftime, but Ezequiel Barco was stopped on a penalty attempt.

Nashville SC (2-4-3) knows all about offensive struggles as a first-year club – it has five goals from five different players through nine matches. Music City, though, have been able to nick points with a stingy defense – they've shipped just nine goals and have taken five points from their last three contests after a scoreless draw at fellow first-year club Inter Miami on Saturday.

They addressed the lack of scoring Tuesday with the signing of Venezuela international and striker Jhonder Cadiz on loan from Portuguese side Benfica. The 25-year-old Cadiz is the team's third Designated Player, coming off a season on loan in Dijon in which he scored two goals in 15 appearances.

"Jhonder has been an outstanding striker at the highest of levels in both European and South American competitions, and we think his game is tailor-made for Major League Soccer," said Nashville SC General Manager Mike Jacobs. "The combination of his athleticism and clinical ability around the box made him heavily sought after. We feel fortunate to be able to add him to our club."

Nashville has split its three home games thus far, though its MLS debut was a 2-1 loss to Atlanta on Feb. 29. The Five Stripes picked up a second win when the teams met Aug. 22 as part of the MLS Phase One of scheduling, getting a brace from the since-departed Pity Martinez.

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