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Saba Lobjanidze: First in my mind is Atlanta has to win

Not the result we wanted, but it shows what teams are going to target against the Five Stripes

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s just that...Atlanta United really needed this one, y’know?

A draw away is a draw away, that’s never a bad thing. But on Wednesday evening in the nation’s capital, it just felt like this could’ve been the moment Atlanta United ascended to their next level after such a dominant performance against Inter Miami.

There’s so much on the line as the season comes to a close, and the fact that Atlanta has one, perhaps two, games less than the other Eastern Conference teams around it will make the remaining matches of the season absolutely chaotic. But for this match against D.C. United, it truly felt like they were going to take the next step to show the rest of the league they’re not joking around.

An aggressive press caused D.C. tons of problems early on, including a Giorgos Giakoumakis shot that struck the woodwork around the third minute. But it was Tyler Wolff who caused some mayhem at the left wing position and dispossessed D.C. in the final third, before playing a picture perfect ball to the middle of the box. An on-running Saba Lobjanidze took the sot first time by simply redirecting it past the goalkeeper into the side netting to put the Five Stripes up 1-0.

The wingers caused some more mayhem, primarily on the right with Saba and Lennon, but D.C. rapidly grew into the game and had multiple chances that just failed to find the back of the net. Halftime arrived with the 1-0 scoreline, but Atlanta never really seemed in control after about 25 minutes.

The half came and went, with Pineda making a variety of subs throughout the second half to rest legs for the upcoming home match against Montreal. Thiago Almada seemed to be missing in action as D.C. did well to mark him out of the game, and the revolving door of players just couldn’t hold on to the lead for the full 90 minutes. D.C. United’s goal felt like it was inevitable, and it was a quick one-two at the top of the box that led to the ultimate equalizer.

Neither team had time to find the go-ahead goal, and the match ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw.

Again, it isn’t the worst result, but at this point in the season with the new players after the summer window, fans are looking for that moment where the team truly “turns the corner.” It didn’t happen against D.C., and unfortunately it feels like a step back.

That’s not to say all is lost; this team admittedly hasn’t had a ton of time to gel with a mixed roster of guys not in the prime starting XI. Jay Fortune got his third MLS appearance of the season, which was a wildcard for guys like Tristan Muyumba who haven’t played with him yet. The chemistry wasn’t fully developed, and that’s to be expected.

But if the Five Stripes hope to have a chance of making a run in the playoffs, they certainly have to develop that relationship amongst the full squad sooner rather than later. The way this new playoff format is set, there’s no possible way a prime starting XI plays nonstop through the conference - there are just too many games. Depth will absolutely be a huge factor.

The guys have a chance to snag another three points - and possibly a playoff birth - Saturday at home against Montreal. They’ll surely approach the match with the playoff mindset, and the crowd will be instrumental in making sure they have the energy to snag the win.

Ultimately, though, that home field advantage is the goal, so the team will need to show out for the rest of the regular season to have a chance of finding that coveted top-four spot. This weekend may be the moment we finally see newcomer Jamal Thiaré at the number 9 spot, which would add a wonderful goal scoring threat as Giakoumakis sits poised on a suspension after his next yellow.

In the meantime, take a look below at what Pineda and Saba had to say after the match, and leave us your comments below!

Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:

On if the result was a good draw or a bad draw

“It’s hard to say that. I would say initially I told the players we’re disappointed for losing two points because we were actually winning 1-0 and I think we could have scored one of those chances in the first 15-20 minutes and then probably the game was more on our side and we had more spaces. Disappointed for losing two points but after the other results that are happening, probably it’s not a bad result and we stay kind of there still and with a good result on Saturday and then we have seven points out of nine and that would put us in a very good position to compete for top-four, which is the objective, and mixed feelings there.”

On the team having control in the first 15 minutes, creating down the right side, and then D.C. taking more control

“Yes, I would say both things. I don’t think we got tired. I think we stopped understanding that our right side was working very well as we start to force balls to the left side and normally our left side is pretty good in our movements and that, and I think Tyler (Wolff) was having a very good game on finding solutions there but for some reason we started to be a little bit sloppy on those progressions and patterns of play that we had and also stopped switching the point of attach, which was one of the main points of emphasis in the build up, especially when we saw that they were playing 4-3-3, 4-diamond-2 with a false nine marking our center mid, Ajani (Fortune). Then the spaces on the flanks for our fullbacks should have been more open so I think we just started to make the wrong decision to go on the left side too early and we didn’t switch the point of attack but I feel like when we started to do it correctly we could have had a little bit more quality in the final third and we could have scored and capitalized with better chances in the final third.”

On if it is a positive sign that the team could at least get a point out of the match after giving up an equalizing goal when it failed to do so against FC Cincinnati

“Yes, it was honestly a big debate on the bench on the next move in terms of subs when we start to see that they were bringing on pace with Hurtado and Dajome. We start to think about a back line of five because we imagined it was more a 4-4-2 so we started to think about a back-five just to protect the direct play. I think the main thing was D.C.’s durect balls in to Benteke and the second balls and it’s very difficult to sustain the pressure when they play direct into a very dominant guy in the air like Benteke and then they were able to get second balls in those little transition moments and cause us problems. And then we were thinking already on the back line of five and then the goal came out of a transition moment where we did a good recovery there Xande (Silva) and then we lose the ball and from that little transition they score, so I’m reflecting on if I should have already gone with a back line of five just to make sure that we sustain the advantage or I had many things in my head on that waiting for what they were doing and then the goal happened. So, I will reflect on that. I told the players we’re disappointed for losing two points but once they equalized the game, I thought that was positive that we sustained that. We say when we don’t win, we don’t lose, so that’s a good way to put it and we were able to sustain the pressure from their side.”

Atlanta United winger Saba Lobjanidze

On recording three goals and two assists in his first four matches and if it’s a better start than he could have imagined

“Yes, it’s a really great statistic like that but first of all, I’m a team player so for me it’s most important if you win the games. So the statistic, of course, is really nice, it’s a good feeling and for my confidence. First in my mind is Atlanta has to win.”

On what he can do better to help the team win

“Yeah, honestly every time it can be better. So I’m not a guy who thinks “okay, I’m good”. I still need to work and I have to be better, like a couple of moments I don’t like in my game and I will work at that.”

On Gonzalo speaking about wanting to talk to him about his defensive positioning and how that is something he can learn and has done before

“Yeah, of course you know I’m still learning my teammates so I need some time and they need some time to see my game, feel my game, so it’s about time.”