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Roland Lamah helps Cincinnati overcome intimidating Atlanta atmosphere for 1st MLS point

Mar 10, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; FC Cincinnati forward Roland Lamah (7) celebrates with defender Kendall Waston (2) after scoring against Atlanta United in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — Roland Lamah’s 86th-minute equalizer earned FC Cincinnati a surprising first point in MLS with a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United on Sunday.

Playing away against the reigning MLS Cup champion for the expansion team’s second match, expectations were understandably modest. That was especially true following FCC’s opening 4-1 loss at Seattle last Saturday. 

But after Atlanta talisman Josef Martínez opened the scoring just five minutes in, it looked like another long night was in store. The hosts used the early lead to their advantage. Atlanta dominated play with a commanding 66.5 percent of possession and nearly added to that lead on several occasions. However, a much-improved Cincinnati defense turned away the Five Stripes’ efforts and left an opportunity to steal a late result. 

FC Cincinnati did just that, and not only against heavily-favored opposition, but also in intimidating conditions. The match was Atlanta’s 2019 home opener, and the club also raised its first championship banner. As such, an announced crowd of 70,382 supporters — including more than 300 traveling Cincinnati supporters — filled Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Despite the deafening crowd noise, the expansion club nearly took more than a point. A narrow offside call denied striker Fanendo Adi his first MLS goal for FCC after he headed home a Leonardo Bertone cross in the 55th minute. According to the Video Assistant Referee, Adi was just ahead of the Atlanta backline.

Progress from Week 1

The result in Atlanta was positive for FC Cincinnati for reasons aside from just the table. High on the club’s achievement list was a vastly improved performance, both offensively and defensively. Cohesion between teammates, communication and the team’s shape all seemed far sharper than against Seattle during Week 1.

“During the course of the game, I was thinking, ‘We are showing major growth,'” FCC head coach Alan Koch said. “Obviously, we know it is going to take time, but that growth was unfolding in front of our own eyes as the game went on. I think getting the point is huge for the players’ confidence.”

That growth coming against an Atlanta side with attacking talent in spades, was even more promising.

The coach said, “There is a reason they are the champions in the league. They have a lot of quality players, I think they showed that at times tonight. But give our group a lot of credit. Collective defending tonight was very good.”

New faces on pitch

What’s better, FCC gained that confidence while also working some important new faces into the squad. 

In goal, Spencer Richey made just his second MLS start in place of the injured Przemysław Tytoń. Richey came up big on several occasions, including a big second-half stop against Josef Martínez from point-blank range. He was joined in the starting XI by fellow FC Cincinnati MLS debutant Kekuta Manneh, and his pace provided a needed spark on both sides of the ball.

Additional debuts were also in store for substitutes Greg Garza and new signing Kenny Saief. Both made an immediate impact on the match, with Saief providing the assist to Lamah’s equalizer. Garza’s introduction also provided a special moment, when the left back was greeted to raucous applause after helping Atlanta to the league title last season.

The challenge now for FCC: Can it carry that growth into Sunday’s home opener against the Portland Timbers?

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