Atlanta United today secured its place in the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs after a comeback 2-1 win over last-placed FC Cincinnati. Atlanta finished 5th in the Eastern Conference standings and will play NYCFC in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think this game is a testament of what was the season for the team,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “First half of the season, not great. not a lot of points. Then ... the second half, very good, credit to the players again. I just told the players that last time Atlanta United played in this stadium, they were 13 games with 13 points and now, 21 games after, we have 38 points more. And that is a testament to the mentality of the team in the second half of the season.”
Atlanta United needed a win over Cincinnati, Philadelphia Union to beat NYCFC and Orlando to lose to Montréal in order to be guaranteed a playoff game. The Union drew with NYCFC 1-1 and Orlando defeated Montréal 2-0.
Let's talk about the game. Atlanta won thanks to goals from Miles Robinson and one of the best goals I’ve ever seen from Josef Martinez, but Atlanta struggled in this game (particularly in the first half). The Five Stripes came out looking like they were still playing away in Red Bull Arena and not against the worst team in the league over the last three years. Cincinnati entered this game with an 11 game losing streak, and it looked like Cincinnati would end that run after the opening goal in the 21st minute.
Atlanta looked disjointed and scattered throughout the first half, which prompted Gonzalo Pineda to move his team to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Atlanta came out of the halftime team talk looking much better than they did in the first half, and that slowly turned into chances for the Five Stripes. Atlanta went took five shots in the first half and increased their tally to 13 shots in the second half.
In the 70th minute, Miles Robinson capped off a great domestic regular season with his first ever MLS goal to level the game.
In the post match press conference, Pineda said that it was one of the most beautiful goals he’s ever seen.
Considering Atlanta’s dismal record of coming back on the road (1-26-7 before this match), I wouldn't blame you for being willing to accept a draw. However, Josef would blame you for being willing to accept a draw. In order to avoid that, he scored one of the most insane goals I've ever seen to put Atlanta 2-1 up in the 79th minute.
Considering where this team was just a couple of months ago, it’s kind of crazy that they even had a shot of being guaranteed a home playoff game. Results from recent weeks will probably leave a sour taste in the team’s mouth considering how close the Five Stripes were to earning a top-four seed. But the fact that Atlanta United turned this season around after going winless for months to finish 5th in the East is a good thing, I think.
This year’s edition of the playoffs will commence on November 20th, and MLS will announce the playoff schedule at a later time.
Roll on the post season.