Atlanta United finally sees all of its new pieces together... and it was glorious
Every Atlanta United fan was thrilled to see — an hour before Atlanta United kicked off against CF Montreal at Mercedes Benz Stadium Saturday — the inclusion of both Saba Lobjanidze and Xande Silva on the wings in Gonzalo Pineda’s starting XI. Remarkably, through all this time with the players at the club, for one reason or another they had yet to play with each other (along with Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis in attack) for any substantial period of time (if literally at all).
Overall, the results were dominant. Atlanta more than doubled Montreal’s xG output 2.34-1.05, while generating 17 shots (13 from inside the box) and 4 big chances (shots with xG equal or greater than .2. In addition, Atlanta had 3 more chances that were worth at least 1.4 xG — overall a very good night of chance generation with Pineda’s best possible team. But the best part...
Atlanta United is reliably a ruthless attacking force at home
We like to say — tongue in cheek or not — that Atlanta United “is back” at various points over the last few years. Some of those have been false dawns, but it’s clear now that this team is for real, and that’s proven in several ways. There are the mere stats the bear out that this team is producing at a higer rate offensively than it has at any point since covid. There is the aesthetics of it, just seeing the way the players are moving and the way that Tristan Muyumba has revolutionized how Atlanta is able to control the middle of the park.
But the most tangible evidence of Atlanta being “back” is how this team feels playing at home. There is now an expectation that this team is going to go out and torture visitors with constant movement and a technical ability to keep the ball and opponents running. And the reason for that expectation is because it’s exactly what the team is delivering. That translates into a more festive atmosphere in the building and points in the league table. You love to see it.
Gonzalo Pineda is a fine manager, as it turns out
When a club struggles, there is always gnashing of teeth by fans and (sometimes) the media about the performance of the head coach. Atlanta was no exception, and the argument comes from a good faith basis and desire for wanting the team to be better. In some sports, the head coach has massive amounts of influence — think football, where every action starts from set plays that are scripted before a break in the action. Soccer is at the other end of that spectrum, where there are no natural breaks in play and the manager is only able to make three substitutions. Now, that doesn’t mean soccer coaches don’t matter at all and that there aren’t traits that make some better or worse than others. But we have enough evidence now to know Gonzalo Pineda’s “ability” as a coach was not at the core of the root problems plaguing Atlanta.
In my opinon, Pineda is a great steward of the club in what he means to players, media and fans. Players don’t have a negative thing to say about the relationships he develops in and among the squad. Speaking for myself as part of the media, I have great admiration for his temperament and desire to be an honest broker. And, for as much as some fans have been frustrated with him at times, has tried to deepen those bonds by brining fans to the training ground when possible, and generally being an absolute mensch when interacting with them. You can’t ask for a whole lot more.
An update on the table and Golden Boot race
After the weekend’s results, Atlanta has remarkably moved into a four-way tie for third place at 49 points. However, it doesn’t tell the whole story, as Atlanta has only three games remaining in the regular season to add to its tally while every other team ranked 1-8 in the Eastern Conference has either four or five games yet to play. So for as tempting as it is, let’s hold off until after next weekend — where Atlanta is off but the league is in action — before we truly asses how high this team is capable of finishing.
In the Golden Boot race, GG added to his tally with a gorgeous chip to capitalize on Atlanta United’s pressure high up the field. He is now tied with Hany Mukhtar and Lucho Acosta (both whom take penalties) with 15 to lead MLS, though both players own the tiebreaker over GG with assists. So he’ll need to beat those players outright to take home the trophy — despite that GG has scored zero penalties contributing to his tally and has scored the goals in vastly fewer minutes played. Just sayin.