Preview: Atlanta United 2 vs Nashville SC

Updated: May 3, 2019

Nashville travel to Atlanta after drawing 2-2 in Pittsburgh. Here's what to look for on Saturday.


After seven matches, Nashville sit in 8th place in the East with 11 points. Gary Smith went with a 3-5-2 formation against Pittsburgh to great effect. For 87 minutes they played their most cohesive soccer of the season, and the tactics worked perfectly. "I thought for 87 minutes we played a perfect game," said Smith after the draw. "I'd like to think if we attack games and give the type of performance like we did tonight, we will get more out of these games."

Obviously, Atlanta is a very different team than the Riverhounds, but in general, I believe the 3-5-2 plays into Nashville's strengths really well. I went into this more in this week's Chalkboard, but it allows Nashville to get all three centerbacks on the field at once, and it frees the midfield to get forward more.

Smith has a history of changing things up - he's played an unchanged XI just four times in his 42 games in Nashville. Still, after such a strong performance in Pittsburgh, it doesn't make sense to change much.

Matt Pickens and Connor Sparrow have rotated starts so far, and Pickens could come in against Atlanta, but I think it's more likely that he gets the next couple home matches against Tampa Bay and Swope Park.

Similarly, we've seen a bit of rotation at the wingback/fullback spots. Taylor Washington is a better fit in a back three than Justin Davis and should start again. Kosuke Kimura played well in Pittsburgh, but doesn't offer as much going forward as Darnell King, so we might see King slot in on the right.

Smith opted for more "steel and discipline" against Pittsburgh, going with "a three man midfield of genuine midfield players instead of creators". In a game against Atlanta where Nashville should be on the front foot, I could see Lebo Moloto taking one of these spots, but I don't expect it. Bolu Akinyode is the only real no. 6 on the team. Matt LaGrassa has been a top performer so far this season. Michael Reed doesn't offer a ton of end product, but he's the club captain and a clear favorite of Smith. However, he could see his spot threatened by Moloto, and potentially by Vinnie Vermeer in the longer term.

At forward, Daniel Ríos leads the team with four goals, and looks nearly undroppable. Kharlton Belmar hasn't found the back of the net yet, but he's been in fantastic form as well. Cameron Lancaster has had a slow start to the season, largely due to injury, but it's hard to see him get the nod ahead of Belmar or Ríos.



Atlanta sit in 11th in the East, with 10 points earned in eight matches. They're very much a possession based side, ranking fourth in all USL with 3,962 completed passes and third with 81% pass accuracy. Head coach Stephen Glass is flexible formationally, but the basic attacking principles are consistent: control the ball and create from the center.

ATL UTD 2 boast a wealth of young talent, and like many "2" sides, their roster varies considerably game to game. Players like Andrew Carleton, George Bello and Jon Gallagher have all spent time with both teams this season. Perhaps the most notable player to come through Atlanta's 2 side is Miles Robinson, who's been a fixture in the MLS side's defense this season (Jason Longshore had a lot to say about his development in our latest podcast).

Atlanta's MLS side is about to play three games in seven days, and so I don't expect to see many fringe players suit up against Nashville SC. I'd expect Gallagher will be with the MLS side, and Carleton may get called up as well, although he's struggled to find time with the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Héctor Villalba in front of them. Even without a couple players, though, Atlanta have plenty of young talent and will attack aggressively. They've played a variety of formations this season, but if Smith does go with a back three, I expect they'll try to get two forwards on the pitch to try and occupy Nashville's centerbacks.


  1. How many changes will Smith make? After a pretty strong tactical performance in Pittsburgh, will Smith trust the same players, or will he change things up as he typically does?

  2. Chance creation? How will the Boys In Gold try to break down Atlanta? Will they revert to crossing as their primary method of chance creation, or will the show more creativity from central areas?

  3. How dangerous will Atlanta be? They have plenty of talent and have had decent offensive output so far. Will they be able to break down what is one of the more talented defense in USL?


GARY SMITH (Head Coach)

On training this week: “Very bright. There’s no issues in the group, and I certainly wouldn’t expect it with the way that we’re playing. The question of course was posed after Saturday’s game: what was the difference in the final three minutes of the game that was really out of our control? Pittsburgh took control of the game for three or four minutes and got themselves on the sheet twice. That is, of course, not only disappointing but a little bit of a concern. But, I’m choosing to really look at the positives out of the game. For 87 minutes, I thought we were more than worthy of our 2-0 lead. To go into such a difficult place and be in such a good position and then really squander the three points was a little bit difficult to take.”

On how he's tried to help the team move on from last week's draw: “We always knew five out of six games away from home weren’t going to be easy. I’m looking at, ‘what we’ve been able to achieve, what form are we showing, where are the guys at, are we moving forward, are we getting the balance right?’ It has to be said at the moment that we’re uncharacteristically conceding goals. It’s not something I’ve seen too often with this group. I

genuinely can’t put it down to any lack of endeavor or focus from the group. We look through some of the facts of the last two games: in the last two games, there have been 10 shots at our goal, four of them on target, in two away games against two very good teams, and I think if you had said to me beforehand, ‘you’re going to average two shots on target a game for the next two away games, I would have bitten your arm off at your elbow.’ That would have told me we were going to be doing a pretty decent job. But to concede five goals with four shots, of course the goal at the end was an own goal, is certainly for me looking at it from a coaching standpoint, a bit of a conundrum. What I’m seeing is that the fellas are getting to work, they’re taking up all their tasks whatever that may be, they’re making life difficult, we’re getting our own efforts at goal, positives that are coming out of it, our set plays are looking that much better. In terms of individuals that have stuck out and done well, I thought Kharlton Belmar was wonderful up front the other night, Bradley [Bourgeois] has come into the group and performed brilliantly after being out of the side for four or five games. So there’s loads and loads of positives. What we certainly have to consider and are constantly looking at is why we’ve conceded give goals. That affects some of the other things that are going on.”

On his decision to use the 3-5-2 formation in Pittsburgh: “A lot of it is the opponent. I looked at how [Pittsburgh] played and the type of field that they play on, and maybe even the type of game it might be down there. The field size constitutes a competitive game, a more up-and-down game, and they’re a tough side. Let’s not get away from that. They’re home record is very very good. Bob [Lilley] has made a living out of having extremely organized teams and very determined teams. That aside, I looked at the fact that we had some good results last year when we switched to a 3-5-2 in some very difficult venues, Cincinnati and Louisville being two. I just felt at that moment it might be the right time to roll that out keeping quite a core of players that had seen it last year. So we recapped a lot of things last week and I have to say, the guys took it on board magnificently. I really honestly don’t think we could have done much more than to have seen the game out, and that’s really not down to tactics. The first little bit of pressure they exerted, they scored. In fact, it might have been the second effort at goal that they scored on. I think the rest is down to some fidget-ness, getting a little bit twitchy about seeing the game out, and before you know it, they’re back on level terms. Something certainly to learn and appreciate for the future, but I have no doubt that we have the guys to get whatever job done in whatever shape. To answer your original question, I think we’ll see it again. Where and when, it serves us well in the right occasions and on the right occasions, and I do honestly think if we’re looking at what this group’s about and some of the qualities we have, I want to get two forwards on the field wherever I can. So if I’m going to get two forwards on the field, it limits me with what I can do with the team. That will normally end up being a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2. There isn’t any other way unless somebody’s going to make up a new system, and I’m certainly not in the sort of position to want to do that. So yeah, those two shapes I think you’re going to see far more often. Look, I think the guys understand it. We want to be positive, we want to be on the front foot, we want to have two really good focal points to our team, and we’ve got that. Whether that be Daniel [Rios], Cameron [Lancaster], Kharlton [Belmar] who’s been up there, Tucker [Hume] who’s done a good job for us, we’ve got Ropapa [Mensah] who’s not been in, Alan [Winn] can play up there and so on and so on. And then we’ve got a lot of attacking options. We’ll see.”

On playing against Atlanta's attacking style: “Every game poses a different problem and perspective. This group, there’s a lot of attacking players. They’re at their best when they’re on the front foot and trying to make sure things happen. But that does leave them vulnerable, and you’ve got a much younger core to that group, so they’re still learning their trade. But what I will say is, I think they’ve learned a lot of lessons from last year, they’ve started off in a much better fashion. I think they’re group is stronger, the core of players that they’ve got to choose from is stronger, and when I’ve watched some of their footage, they’ve got goals in from all angles. I do think that they’re getting in a bit of a trend where away from home they’re maybe not sending so many senior players, and at home it looks like the team is much more experienced and maybe better populated with those type of players. I’m planning for the strongest team they’ve got, it's a big field and a better venue to play football, so it will certainly suit them, and I think it suits us as well. We’ve got some good footballers, we’ve got some talented players. To your point, I would expect a really good game. Good footballing game, plenty of opportunities, if they’ve looked at our last two games they’ll feel as though we’re ready to concede goals, but I think what we have done is

we’ve proved that were much, much more of a goal threat than we were last year, so for us it’s getting the right balance. For them, it will be likewise. If they leave themselves too vulnerable, it will be a little bit like two fighters with a good punch, don’t leave your chin open. Otherwise, you might not see the end of the fight."


On the performance against Pittsburgh: “For 85 minutes, I thought we were very good. One of the best performances of the year for the whole group, and then a lapse of judgment, lapse of I don’t know, one moment kind of cost us. We ended up tying, which felt like a loss.”

On lessons taken from the late collapse in Pittsburgh: “It’s a learning moment for us. It’s definitely mentality. You’ve got to see the game out. Hopefully we learned our lesson, I know I have. As a group, we’ve sat down, we’ve watched it, so we should be good from now.”

On how comfortable he was in a 3-5-2 formation: “I’m comfortable there, I’m sure everyone’s pretty comfortable. We’re all professionals, we’ve played in multiple formations throughout our career, so whatever formation you throw at us, we should be more than capable.”

On playing against Atlanta's attack: “It’ll be a different game for sure, but we’re ready for it.”


Ben Wright

Score: Atlanta 0 - 3 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Bradley Bourgeois, Cameron Lancaster

MOTM: Daniel Ríos

Bold Prediction: Nashville finally get a goal in the first ten minutes for the first time this season.

Andy Simmons

Score: Atlanta 0 - 2 Nashville

Scorers: Daniel Ríos, Matt LaGrassa

MOTM: Matt LaGrassa

Bold Prediction: Nashville pulls away in the second half after a tight first half.

Jonathan Slape

Score: Atlanta 0 - 2 Nashville

Scorers: Kharlton Belmar, Cameron Lancaster

MOTM: Kharlton Belmar

Bold Prediction: Belmar gets his first goal and assist of the season.

John Sloop

Score: Atlanta 1 - 2 Nashville

Scorers: Kharlton Belmar, Daniel Ríos

MOTM: Kharlton Belmar

Bold Prediction: Kharlton Belmar celebrates his goal with a flip.

Have a prediction for the match? Vote in our Fearless Forecast and reply with your predictions.


Date: Saturday, 05/04/19

Time: 6:30pm CST

Place: Fifth Third Bank Stadium, Kennesaw, Georgia

TV: No local broadcast

Stream: ESPN+

Radio: 94.9 Game 2

Forecast: 79°/63°. Scattered Thunderstorms. 80% chance of rain.

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