Major League Soccer

FCC-Atlanta United Preview

When Atlanta United and FC Cincinnati meet Sunday both teams will be 0-1-0 but could not be in more different situations.

Atlanta is the defending MLS Cup champion, is still alive in the CONCACAF Champions League, has an MVP and record-setting goal scorer on its roster and is returning home to play in front of a raucous crowd.

Cincinnati will be on the road again in its second ever MLS game after getting thumped by Seattle 4-1 in its league debut.

The silver lining for the expansion franchise is that they were able to crystallize a historic moment when Leo Bertone scored the first MLS goal in franchise history, striking a volley from just outside the box that sizzled past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 13th minute. Even with the 1-0 lead, FCC was pinned in its own half and struggled to control play.

Other than the goal, it was hard to find positives.

Seattle's Kelvin Leerdam stuffed home a rebound in the 27th minute, and Sounders forward Jordan Morris added two more goals before halftime.

"It's almost the worst possible thing you can do sometimes is you can score on the road too early against a good team," Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said. "Obviously, they came to life and coming at us."

The Orange and Blue managed just seven shots in the game - to Seattle's 24 - and had just 36-percent possession against the 2016 champions. Koch referred to the Sounders' four straight goals as a "barrage."

"We knew the schedule being presented to us is very, very difficult. Nobody should be surprised by how tonight went," Koch said. "There was growth but next week is going to be even more difficult."

Atlanta began its league title defense with a 2-0 loss against D.C. United at rain-soaked Audi Field last weekend.

A 3-0 loss Wednesday against CF Monterrey in CONCACAF Champions League play has left Atlanta wondering where its scoring touch has gone after leading MLS with 70 goals last season.

Reigning MVP Josef Martinez will look to find his 2018 form when he scored 31 goals, and newly acquired teammate and 2018 South American player of the year Pity Martinez aims to live up to his $14 million transfer fee in the attacking midfield.

The Five Stripes are no stranger to bad starts. Last year's opener was a 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo, but Atlanta followed that result with a 7-0-1 stretch to put its season back on a championship course.

"Playing in this league, it's competitive, it's difficult. It's a long season; there's no need to panic," goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after the loss to D.C. "These types of games you can look back at the video to see how to get better."

Playing its fourth game in 11 days and with another leg of CCL competition scheduled for Wednesday, Atlanta may be forced to rest some regulars to stay fresh. Even with some reserves in the lineup, however, Atlanta will look to assert its dominance over an FC Cincinnati side that was overwhelmed in its opener.

Updated March 8, 2019

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