Atlanta United needed to get it done Saturday evening against a desperate C.F. Montreal to solidify their spot in the post-season, and they handled the job in style.
The crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was rocking as the Five Stripes donned the 404 kits once more and proceeded to dominate from opening to final whistle. The open, free-flowing attack was on full display as a prime starting XI took the pitch for the first time since League’s Cup and the summer transfer window.
For all the desperation of a team that is sitting on the playoff line like Montreal, they entered the match playing extremely lackadaisical. That may be credit to Pineda’s side, because Atlanta just played with more urgency, aggression, and finesse, but it was surprising nonetheless. Xande Silva, Saba Lobjanidze, Brooks Lennon, and Caleb Wiley were terrors down the wings, while Almada had space to work thanks to Muyumba and Rossetto.
The party got started in the 30th minute after Caleb Wiley won the ball and broke everyone loose on a rapid attacking sequence. The ball was played out to an on-running Saba, who sprayed it back across the face of goal to Xande Silva. Queue the Griddy celly.
XANDE CANNOT STOP SCORING pic.twitter.com/0CLgPWvYbu— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 24, 2023
At that point, Montreal woke up and actually started trying to press Brad Guzan and the center backs on goal kicks and resets...for about three minutes. The problem with this was simple: Montreal got handily worked while sitting back and waiting for the right moment, but once they had to chase the game, they opened the whole field up. Atlanta sliced through it violently, and it would be Xande Silva acting as the knife and Thiago Almada as the dagger to put Atlanta up 2-0 quickly. Note Caleb Wiley’s massive involvement in both opening goals.
Unfortunately, Montreal would find Atlanta in a moment of neutral and pull a goal back before the half, but the Five Stripes still went into the break with tons of momentum.
When they returned to the pitch, it was with a renewed sense of fervor to completely ice the game, and ice it they did. Giakoumakis would be the one to finally net the third goal, but Saba, Xande, Almada, and others all had shot after shot after shot.
Xande Silva and Giakoumakis both pressed Montreal’s center backs into a turnover, and as the keeper came out to try and help his ailing defender, Giakoumakis picked his head up and flicked the ball over the top and into the net.
Put some respect on Giorgos's name pic.twitter.com/XSFeEE5QgZ— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 24, 2023
The game continued with Atlanta in control, though Montreal had one nervy moment where a header pinged off the woodwork. Ultimately, though, Atlanta built up that head of steam and it was a set of subs, plus Thiago Almada, that dropped the fourth goal as the match was closing out.
Tyler Wolff, who had an excellent match with only a few touches, sprayed a quick ball across the pitch - and between two defenders - to a sprinting Edwin Mosquera. He laid the ball off for Thiago Almada who made a run to the end line before gently sending it back to the top of the box where Mosquera had held his run. Edwin took the shot on goal, and though it took a slight deflection, the ball was making it 4-1 regardless.
THESE GUYS ARE COOKING pic.twitter.com/Eg22RcQGC4— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 24, 2023
Jamal Thiaré also made his debut on the evening, and provided a quick, fun spark going forward. He made an impact by getting in on goal against Montreal’s back line and forcing a second yellow/red (which also could’ve been a straight red for DOGSO) on Joel Waterman.
And that’s how Atlanta United clinched their 2023 playoff spot. It was a good showing as they’ve started to find another gear when it’s most important. With a few more games left, they still have a shot at snagging that coveted home field advantage, and it’ll take this attack continuing to fire on all cylinders. Ultimately, fans should be quite encouraged by what they’ve seen, and now with a bit of time to rest, they can enter the closing stretch with better legs.
Take a look at what Pineda, Brad Guzan, Xande Silva, and Jamal Thiaré said after the match, and leave us your comments below!
Atlanta United Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda:
On the performance of the team:
“I think it was a very, very positive game in many phases of the game. Offensively, we played very good at the beginning of the game, and I think we should have scored a goal earlier. It didn’t come, but I liked the mentality of the team where we continued creating chances and disrupting CF Montreal’s defensive line. Offensively, it was very good, very creative, and I liked the numbers inside the box, the fluidity, and the directness in our attacks. Defensively, I really liked the way we were defending in the transition moments. I am very picky with my wingers, my #10, and my #9 to sprint back and be goal sided. Once we lose the ball, everybody either starts pressing immediately around the ball, or if we are broken [defensively], we have to sprint back. When we didn’t do that in the first half, there were a couple chances that we got in behind, so I am very pleased with those attackers because they were not only creating chances, but also defending. It wasn’t an easy game for our defenders to defend against tall players inside the box, and [CF Montreal] actually created a few chances, but the goalkeeper, defenders, and center-midfielders had a tremendous game defensively. In the transition, I think the transitions were very good and when we were fast, we talked about being more direct in transition moments. The subs, many positives out the game, and probably the only negative is not keeping the clean sheet, which I am still hopeful we can accomplish more in the remainder of the season. Overall, it was a very good game.”
On the play and progression of some of Atlanta United’s younger players:
“Talking about young players, Caleb Wiley has accomplished the most appearances in Major League Soccer for the team by a Homegrown player, with 53 appearances, so he has set a new record and has many more to come, so great for him. The young players, Tyler [Wolff] and Edwin [Mosquera], I think they are doing very, very good. Ajani [Fortune] came in during a tough moment of the game, and I felt that Tristan [Muyumba] had too many minutes this week, so when I need Ajani, he is fantastic at keeping possession of the ball, not hiding, moving the ball from back to front, and brings his challenges and defensively intensity that we need in that part of the field, so I am very pleased by that. And Tyler [Wolff], I think Tyler had a very good game in the few moments that he touched the ball. He really applied a lot of quality and was outstanding defensively. He blocked a very good shot [from CF Montreal] at the top of the box in the second half, and he was very good. Young players, whoever is entering the game, and [Jamal] Thiaré making his debut and creating a red card for the opponent, there are many positives to talk about from all of those game changers.”
On the chemistry of the team and attacking as a unit:
“We need to continue getting good performances, and what I would say is that not only Xande [Silva] and Saba [Lobjanidze], it is Edwin [Mosquera], Tyler Wolff, and Machop Chol in the moments that we have used them, and that competition has made all of them better. You saw today, Xande had a very, very good game with a goal and an assist, but he could have maybe had three or four assists in the first half. Then, Saba, I think he had one direct assist from [Giorgos Giakoumakis] on the first goal that came from Xande, but he could have had more. Then, Edwin enters the game and impacts with a goal, so it feels like they are competing against each other as well on who is more productive, but at the same time, they are unselfish and trying to make the team successful. If they have to pass the ball instead of shooting, they do, and all of those little things are so important and create chemistry in the final third, so I am very pleased with all of my wingers.”
Atlanta United midfielder Xande Silva:
On qualifying for playoffs during his first MLS season:
“I am very happy. I think that was the first objective. Time to rest now and think about the next games because we want to be in the top-4.”
On his goal and assist tonight:
“I’m going to say every time, this is my job. I’m doing my job. I am going to keep doing that and training every day to do that.”
On his takeaways from tonight’s win:
“The togetherness was there, I think what made us win tonight was our togetherness. That’s what you need and I think we’re going to keep working that way.”
On his relationship with Saba Lobjanidze:
“We have a good relationship. I have a good relationship with the player’s here so it doesn’t matter who plays on the wings or midfield or defender. We are always ready for the games. Everyone works hard and that is the most important thing.”
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan:
On how he feels on clinching a playoff spot:
“Listen, that is obviously priority number one. But now we go to try and finish as high as we can. We know that home field advantage is huge for us. And so we want to try and finish in those top spots to go ahead and have that advantage.”
On how he believes the performances have been:
“They were good. I thought today was good. Wednesday we took our foot off the gas in D.C. Obviously the game in Miami, or against Miami was a good result. You know, it’s always difficult when you play midweek, especially away. Knowing the quick turnaround from one game to the next and what the playoffs will be like; that’s going to be important that we’re able to manage that time frame.”
On Philly coming up and what he will take there:
“Yea, we will enjoy this. We will reflect and watch the video from this game and see where we can certainly be better. And then later in the week we’ll start to prepare for Philly because as you mentioned it will certainly be a tough game. We know that. Anytime you go up there it’s a tough game. If we play like we know we can, we will certainly have a chance to get a result.”
Atlanta United forward Jamal Thiare
On his first feeling when he got on the field after not having played in a while
“For now, I’m trying to get used to this, give my best in training. Today the coach called me up and I tried to bring in my best as I said last time to the media. I am here to bring something, so if we need me, I will do my best to be the best version of myself.”
On his expectations for the rest of the season
“Honestly speaking I do not have any specific expectations, I have just now discovered the MLS and I think that it’s a very open league. I am going to bring in a plus for the team and it’s starting good so far, and until the end of the season we will see what I’ll have brought.”
On his debut
“It’s a little tough. I just integrated a full team, that is largely advanced. I’m trying to compensate, and I think the staff knows that too. I try to take the minutes they give me. We will see about what’s next but for now, I just think it’s a good debut, I just need to keep working for it and it’s going to be okay.”
On keeping positivity when waiting for his visa
“I am someone that is very positive, even though in a negative situation I always try to stay positive. I tried keeping my head up and training every morning meanwhile I was waiting.”