Atlanta United will look to continue its unbeaten road form at Montreal on Saturday.
The MLS expansion side has earned five points away from home, including two in draws at Seattle, the MLS Cup champs, and Toronto, the runner-up, in its past two games.
“I think we are doing well,” club manager Gerardo Martino said. “As I preach to the players, it’s not that we’ve only been playing together for three months, it’s we’ve only been together as a group of people for three months. We’ve played against some top teams in the league and I think we are competing well.”
While Montreal was one of the better teams in the league the past few seasons, including reaching the Eastern Conference finals last season, it has been one of the worst teams this season.
Playing four of its five games on the road, the Impact are one of two teams yet to win this season.
Montreal has been hurt by the absence of its best player, Ignacio Piatti, who has missed the past two games with an injury. The Argentinian midfielder has 31 goals and 16 assists in 67 appearances in the regular season for Montreal, dating to 2014.
He is questionable for Saturday’s game, but Montreal manager said Mauro Biello said he’s hopeful that Piatti can play.
Atlanta United’s defense should be up for the challenge either either way, having already faced New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, Seattle’s Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey and Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. It hasn’t allowed a goal in the second half of its past four games. Its five goals allowed is tied for third-fewest in the Eastern Conference. Montreal has allowed eight.
“Montreal is a very solid team defensively, and they have one of the most, in Piatti, one of the best game-changers, playmakers in MLS,” Martino said. “When he plays he’s one of the best in the league at being a difference-maker. We have to be prepared to defend him and control him if he plays.”
Both teams will be missing a player because of red cards. Atlanta United midfielder Yamil Asad received one in the second half of last week’s game at Toronto. Montreal midfielder Marco Donadel received one in the first half of last week’s 2-0 loss at L.A. Galaxy.
The tactical battle will be interesting to watch.
Montreal reached the Eastern Conference finals last season on the strength of its ability to counterattack. Opta, the statistics provider for MLS, doesn’t keep track of stats related to counter-attacks. It does track fast-breaks, which is a quick movement out of midfield involving multiple players, rather than a breakaway from a long ball or other turnover.
Montreal had 16 (tied for fourth), scoring three goals (tied for third), last season. This season it has one fast break with one goal. Atlanta United has three with one goal. It came on the first goal scored by Hector Villalba in last week’s 2-2 draw against Toronto.
Atlanta United would prefer to keep possession and play in the opponent’s half of the field. It’s a tactic the team hasn’t been able to do as much in its past two games as it did in its first three games.
“We have to be patient and wait for the right moments to counterattack,” Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron said.
Coach: Mauro Biello.
Previous game: Lost to L.A. Galaxy 2-0.
Three Players to watch:
Ignacio Piatti: One of the best players in MLS, the Argentinian midfielder has missed the past two games because of an injury. He has 31 goals and 16 assists in 67 appearances in the regular season for Montreal. He is questionable for Saturday.
Dominic Oduro: The Ghanian forward has one goal in five games this season, and 63 goals in 316 appearances in the regular season. He is very fast, but isn't the best finisher.
Patrice Bernier: The Canadian midfielder has a league-leading four assists this season, giving him 25 to go with 13 goals since signing with Montreal before the 2012 season.
About the Author
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com