Atlanta United’s early-season habit of grinding out results with subpar performances didn’t last long. The Five Stripes are now onto the slightly less agreeable pattern of finding ways of dropping points despite putting in a respectable outing. The most recent occurrence of this trend was a 2-1 defeat to Inter Miami last weekend, the third straight match without a win for Gonzalo Pineda’s side. And unfortunately for Atlanta, things don’t get much easier anytime soon. The Five Stripes move onto Week 9 with an away trip to Stade Saputo and resurging CF Montreal.
Montreal started off the season with a run of four games winless as it struggled to balance a run to the Concacaf Champions League quarter-finals before going out to Cruz Azul. Since that 1-2 aggregate defeat to the Mexican side, Montreal has three wins and a pair of draws, climbing into 6th in the Eastern Conference on 11 points (level with Atlanta). Second-year head coach Wilfried Nancy has stuck with much of what earned Montreal a successful 2021 campaign, even if it just missed the playoff line by two points. The Canadian side's 3-4-2-1 shape is spearheaded by 23-year-old American attacker Djordje Mihailovic, who leads Montreal in goals and assists (4g and 2a through 8 appearances). If you ask Montreal, he’s one of the frontrunners for the MLS MVP award and Atlanta will have its hands full keeping him quiet. Romell Quioto (3g, 1a) and Kei Kamara (2g, 1a) have been effective to varying degrees upfront, while we got a first-hand look at what Ismael Kone (1g, 2a) can do in the reverse fixture, a wild 3-3 draw at the Benz.
Despite the huge emotional boost that those late goals from Thiago Almada and Brooks Lennon provided back in mid-March, Atlanta has been as maddeningly inconsistent as ever since. Its sole league win was when it scraped past DC (who have since sacked their coach) 1-0, while it deservingly lost to Charlotte and was incredibly unlucky to only take one point from Cincinnati and Miami. Luckily for Atlanta, the entire East has been different shades of mediocre all season, so a successful season is still very much possible for the good guys. First-placed Philadelphia sits just six points clear, while last-placed Cincy is only four points below Atlanta. A run of victories could easily shoot the Five Stripes up the standings just as easily as a prolonged winless run could end with Atlanta below the red line. Atlanta’s next three games will go a long way toward determining which of those futures will transpire. Pineda’s side takes on three teams below it in the standings in the next three weeks, with 6th-placed Montreal, 10th-placed Chicago, and 13th-placed New England all on the menu. Taking care of those teams is par for the course for a team aspiring to be a top seed, but Atlanta is yet to show they’re at that level.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: CF Montreal 2-2 Atlanta United
Atlanta hasn't exactly inspired confidence defensively in recent weeks, but its finishing will finally return to the mean against Montreal. Cisneros will add to his tally before Jake Mulraney snags a late equalizer off the bench to cancel out a brace from Quioto.