Atlanta United’s midweek trip to DC didn’t quite go to plan, laying to bare the Five Stripes’ seemingly inescapable weaknesses just when it seemed like Gonzalo Pineda might have found a permanent fix. Nonetheless, Atlanta didn't suffer nearly as much in the standings as it did on the field in the capital and remains solidly in the mix for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference and subsequent playoff home-field advantage (which is all the more critical after Wednesday night’s performance).
With a win over visiting CF Montreal and some help, Atlanta could reach fourth as soon as this Saturday. If not, well, the ceiling gets a lot lower. Montreal is the last clearly winnable fixture of the season and the Five Stripes have played the most games of anyone involved in the scramble at the top of the East. Following this weekend, Atlanta has Philadelphia (away), Columbus (home), and Cincinnati (away) en route and anything more than four points from that spell would be a major surprise. Such a tally still could be enough to get into the top four, but only if Atlanta does what it couldn’t Wednesday and takes care of business against one of the more mediocre sides in the conference.
Montreal is 8th in the East on 37 points, too far from the automatic playoff spots in 6th but definitely not out of the no-postseason woods entirely, as NYCFC is just three points behind in 10th. The Canadian side is managed by Hernan Losada, who has the unfavorable task of replacing Wilfried Nancy, one of the best managers in the league and a key part of Montreal’s high finishes in years past. Nancy was joined by a number of starters in the departure line out of Montreal, including attacking centerpiece Djorde Mihailovic and the entire backline. Understandably, the heights of 2022 won’t be reached again anytime soon but all things considered, 2023 hasn’t been quite the fall off that was expected (especially as Losada plays a style of running to the extreme completely opposite that of Nancy’s possession ball). New signings Byrce Duke and Kwado Opoku, a pair of highly rated MLS youngsters, have taken the next steps in Montreal and held a more starring role. Other than those two and DP midfielder Victor Wanyama, Losada’s side is a very well-rounded side, another way of saying they lack firepower and big names who show up every week on the boxscore. No one in Montreal has over four goals on the season and its attack ranks third worst in the East with 29 tallies. Also of note to Atlanta is George Campbell, the 22-year-old center-back shipped to Canada for a hefty sum of GAM in the recent offseason. He’s managed 21 appearances on the season after dealing with injury concerns in the spring, but now has six straight full 90s under his belt and a firm spot in the starting XI.
Atlanta has a 6W-3D-3L lead in the all-time series, including a 1-0 win in the reverse fixture this season.
Predicted Starting XIs
It sure would be nice if we finally saw Muyumba, Silva, Lobjanidze, Almada, and Giakoumakis in the same lineup on the field rather than in these predictions.
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-0 CF Montreal
A return to the Benz will see Atlanta get back to its best and put three past Montreal, with goals coming from Xande Silva and a Giakoumakis brace.