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Gonzalo Pineda: That was a very good response for me

A show of heart after a tumultuous week

MLS: Atlanta United FC at CF Montreal Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Chalk another one up for the good guys! Atlanta United made the trip north to Montreal - geographically northeast of the other Canadian city where they inexplicably sent Franco Ibarra - and pulled out a hard-fought win in Stade Saputo. The Five Stripes hadn’t won there since 2018, and Montreal has generally been tough to beat at home this season.

That makes two wins in a row for Atlanta, and provides a bit of cushion as they were teetering precariously close to the playoff line. And the two wins weren’t against bottom tier teams; they handled Philadelphia Union at home 2-0, and then traveled (MLS team’s kryptonite) north of the border after a wildly clamorous week of transfers.

The switch to the five-back setup has allowed Gonzalo Pineda’s side to keep back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since September of 2022, while leaving Thiago Almada and company to focus on the attack. With the New England Revolution literally just around the corner, it’s hard to imagine the team making any wholesale changes from what’s been working.

The clean sheets have definitely been a breath of fresh air, and the team has still been creating some decent chances. Brooks Lennon has been heavily involved, and he almost opened the scoring up early in this Montreal match when he found himself with a tight angled shot inside the box that he slipped just outside the far post.

It would ultimately be Thiago Almada that provided the free kick magic once again, though, to place Brooks Lennon in place for a tap in. Atlanta won a foul in prime Almada penalty kick free kick territory, and his shot was inches from being perfectly placed. It banged off the post and rebounded to an on-running Lennon who found the back of the net for the only goal of the match.

Atlanta survived an onslaught of balls into the box in the last quarter of the match, which included about 12 minutes of stoppage. Initially given as 9 minutes, which was already inexplicable, the stoppage time continued for another three because...the ref’s watch broke, or something. Either way, the defense help strong, the final whistle blew, Gonzalo Pineda and Hernan Losada almost came to blows, and the Five Stripes come home with three points. It was a well-deserved ending to a wild week.

Speaking of Pineda, see what he and Santiago Sosa - who had a phenomenal match - said about the match below. Be sure to leave us your comments, as well!

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:

On how pleased he was with the performance and result tonight

“It was a great performance. I’m very proud of the players. They did a great, great job, especially in the first half. We were trying to figure out our press. Montreal did a good job of finding some passing lanes. It was difficult for us to figure it out. Players were executing the game plan, but those passes were trouble for us. And the players knew how to adjust and put in the effort to chase, press, recover and be goal side. At times it was absorbing pressure. That was a very good response for me. Plus then we had a few good transition moments. Some good plays, one with Caleb (Wiley) crossing, one with a great ball from Thiago (Almada) to Brooks (Lennon) for a chance in the first half. We had a few chances there, but not really control of the match. In the second half, I felt we corrected that and we had more possession. Then we found the goal and then of course we absorbed a lot of pressure and put a lot of numbers behind the ball. Montreal put in two number 9s and played direct. It was very brave performance, which makes me think we are heading in the right direction.”

On the formation working again tonight, allowing only one shot on target

“I think it’s working. Again, we have to see as coaches that we try to stick with a formation just to have some continuity. But then sometimes when you see things aren’t working, you look for alternatives and that’s what we did. But, no formation will fix mentality. The credit all goes to the players. I could put a backline of six and if they don’t win duels, aerial duels, the 50-50 ball or block shots, the plan won’t work defensively. It can very easily be a back four and if we have that mentality we can do the same. Yes, at the moment this formation is working, but again all credit should go to the players.”

On if the players feel a comfort level in this new formation

“Yes, maybe that is the case. I mentioned this earlier, the role of the wingbacks, now that we are absorbing pressure, is that they can step up with more confidence. Now that we have an extra man in the back. Even if the opponent makes a cross, we know that we have at least four players, sometimes even more with three centerbacks, the opposite wingbacks and the midfielders dropping. It has to be very complicated for the opponent to get crosses and headers inside our box. That’s the main idea. But then in the buildup, the back three allows for a clear buildup I believe. So, it’s both ways. It’s not just a defensive shape, it’s also how can we build from the back a little bit better.”

On Santiago Sosa’s performance tonight

“He was very good. Similar to everyone, I don’t want to highlight one over the other players. I feel that everyone did a great performance. Starting with Brad (Guzan) and the experience he showed with the crosses he came for in the air. The center backs absorbed a lot of pressure. The wingbacks were putting in a lot of effort in today with box-to-box running, Caleb was tired he told us, that’s why we made a change there. Santi did a great job in the middle with blocking passing lanes, making tackles in the middle of the pitch. It was again the Santi that we all want to see. It was good to see Amar (Sejdic) alongside him and again blocking passes, blocking shots and sustaining possession. Thiago did a lot of pressing and running and staying dangerous. His freekick was amazing. Tyler (Wolff), Jay (Fortune), Miguel (Berry) and just everyone had an outstanding performance tonight. That’s what we need, especially when we play on the road.”

Atlanta United Midfielder Santiago Sosa

On his performance tonight, his first start in a while

“Yes, it’s been a long time. I am really happy to be back and with my performance in particular tonight. Then of course for the team. Today we played a very good game. We won the game, so we are really happy.”

On a second consecutive game with a clean sheet

“It’s of course another tactic, we are playing with three center backs. Yes, I think we are getting used to the ideas of the coaching staff. We try to give our best to win and obviously the tactics could change, but the most important part is to play aggressive.”

On how tough this week was for the players

“Yes, we lost two great players. It’s not easy for us. They were our teammates, we share a lot of things this year, or the last two years in my case with Franco (Ibarra). But, in MLS that type of thing will happen, and we have to keep going.”

On being within a couple points of top-four spot

“We have I think Philadelphia, Nashville and New England ahead of us in the standings. We now have two games next week. We are ready and focused on that and we hope to win these next two games.”