With rumors of potential managers and player signings swirling in the Atlanta United universe, it’s easy for the focus to jump ahead to what will hopefully be a bright future for the Five Stripes. But Atlanta still has half of the 2021 campaign left to play and needs to start finding wins if there’s any chance of saving the season. The eight points between the Five Stripes and the playoff line are a daunting but by no means impossible hurdle to scale. Atlanta will meet the five teams directly above it ten times in the coming months. After a seemingly endless stream of losses and draws, there’s little room for error left and if Atlanta’s going to make the postseason, it’s going to have to earn it on the pitch. The Five Stripes' next shot at snapping an eleven-game winless run is against the team currently in the 7th and last playoff spot, CF Montreal. Win and a very achievable gap of five points separate Atlanta from the playoffs, lose and a trip to the postseason slips even further away with one more chance to turn 2021 around wasted.
Montreal has the ignominious distinction of being one of only two teams to lose to Atlanta this season. In fact, the Canadian side was the last team the Five Stripes picked up three points against all the way back on May 15th thanks to a 94th minute Marcelino Moreno header. But whereas Atlanta has sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference since then, Montreal is looking better-than-expected under new head coach Wilfried Nancy. The Frenchman was promoted from Assistant Manager when Thierry Henry unexpectedly resigned in February. Montreal has a respectable haul of 22 points through 16 games and has the makings of a solid if unspectacular side. It hasn’t been able to hang with the best of the East but booking its first trip to the playoffs since 2016 is more realistic than any preseason predictions proclaimed. Montreal is midtable in both goals scored (21 goals/5th in the East) and goals conceded (20 goals/7th), with very similar numbers in expected goals for and against. Mason Toye and Djordje Mihailovic, both acquired in trades with other MLS sides, have been Montreal’s star performers in the final third. Toye’s six goals lead the team while Mihailovic has three goals of his own along with four assists. Atlanta’s defense put in one of its worst performances of the year against Orlando and Montreal has the weapons to take advantage of a repeat.
The Canadian side isn’t coming into Wednesday’s clash full of confidence either. It fell 2-1 on the road to Inter Miami in a third successive defeat. The first two, away at NYCFC and New England, are understandable but a loss to last-place Miami is more concerning. Montreal will need a win against Atlanta almost as much as Atlanta does or else its grip on a playoff spot will start to look a little loose.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: CF Montreal 0-1 Atlanta United
The return of George Bello and Miles Robinson will restabilize a shaky Atlanta backline while a second-half goal from Amar Sejdic against his old team will give the Five Stripes a vital three points on the road.