As the first regular season in club history winds down for Atlanta United, each match becomes more meaningful. The Five Stripes are poised to break all of the expectations for expansion clubs, but there is still business to take care of before they can get there.
The Montreal Impact have been one of the more inconsistent teams in MLS this season, but they were an Eastern Conference finalist last season and pushed eventual MLS Cup runner-up Toronto to the brink in the playoffs. When the Impact are on, they can achieve results like Wednesday’s 5-3 win at BMO Field over Toronto. That win broke a four-game losing streak that appeared to end Montreal’s playoff hopes for 2017. The win on Wednesday, coupled with New York Red Bulls’ loss last night, gives the Impact a chance to pull level with New York for the final playoff spot in the East with a win at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium today.
Mauro Biello has gotten back to the identity that drove opponents crazy last season after experimenting earlier this season with a more possession based style. The Impact’s counterattack is deadly, and the additions of Blerim Dzemaili and Samuel Piette in midfield provide more balance then they have previously had. Ignacio Piatti has scored nine goals in his last nine games and is one of the most dangerous players in the league on the attack. The former teammate of Tito Villalba is possibly the most underrated player in MLS. Add in the young forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel, in the midst of his best season as a professional, and Montreal is a team that can cause Atlanta problems.
The Five Stripes have been on one of the most dominant runs in MLS history since moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Outscoring the opposition 17-3 and picking up ten out of a possible twelve points, Atlanta United currently sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. However, they can jump into third place with a win today and could even be in second place later this week as the games keep coming.
The attacking quartet of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, and Tito Villalba have been flying in recent games. They have scored 13 of the last 17 goals for Atlanta, with Martinez leading the way with eight of them himself. Asad scored twice on Wednesday night against LA, his first multi-goal game of the season. Tito Villalba has racked up four assists in his last four games. Miguel Almiron scored his first goal since June on Wednesday night, but his complete game has helped Atlanta dominate the midfield during this run of matches.
The defense has also been critical lately for Atlanta United. Brad Guzan and his defensive group have notched three clean sheets in the last four games. Chris McCann has replaced Greg Garza who has missed time with a hamstring injury. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez has showed why he is a MLS Best XI candidate with strong performances during this run. Carlos Carmona and Jeff Larentowicz have continued their unsung play in midfield, supporting both the backline and the attack. Atlanta United is far from a one-man band.
So far this season, Atlanta United has been charting a new path forward for expansion clubs. It continues today against a desperate Montreal Impact playing for their playoff survival. You can listen to our broadcast this afternoon on our sister station WAOK, 1380-AM. Kickoff will be just after 5:00 p.m. Pregame coverage will start at 4:40 on our Facebook page.