A goal from Julian Gressel wasn’t enough as Atlanta United was held to a 1-1 draw Sunday by Montreal at Stade Saputo.
Atlanta United could consider itself slightly unlucky because it had two goals taken off because of offside calls. The last, against Justin Meram on a goal by Hector Villalba, came with just a few minutes remaining. Two more late shots were denied by tremendous saves.
The draw, combined with Philadelphia’s 2-0 loss at Columbus, moves the Five Stripes into a draw with the Union in the battle for second place in the MLS East with one game remaining.
Atlanta United, which has 55 points, will try to earn second outright when it hosts New England Oct. 6 in the regular season finale. Philadelphia will host NYCFC. The playoffs will start Oct. 19. The team that finishes in second will get to host its first-round game in the playoffs. Should it win, it will host the conference semifinal. Should it win again and the top seed lose, it also will host the conference final. The playoffs are single-elimination games this season.
Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said he was much more pleased with his team compared to Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at NYCFC. He said the effort was better, the shape and decisions made when to press were better in a “more mature effort.” However, the result was disappointing.
“We could have deserved more, but it’s our first draw in an away game,” he said. “That’s something. But when are you so close to three points, and when you see the results of the other games, it’s quite bitter to get only one point.”
De Boer made a few changes from the 11 who started at New York. The changes were Michael Parkhurst as part of a three-man backline. Parkhurst, in for Franco Escobar, hadn’t played in a league game since July 17. De Boer said he thought this was Parkhurst’s kind of game, and he may be needed in the playoffs. Also starting were Gressel and Meram as the wingbacks, with Jeff Larentowicz at defensive midfielder in place of the suspended Eric Remedi. Remaining starters were Brad Guzan in goal, with Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez as the other two centerbacks, with Darlington Nagbe and Emerson Hyndman as the central midfielders and Pity Martinez and Brandon Vazquez as the strikers.
The first 30 minutes were quite boring until Guzan stuck out a leg to block a shot by Saphir Taider in the 37 minutes. Taider was left unguarded on the back post as Atlanta United’s defender shifted to their right. Once the ball was swung to the left, Taider received it about 7 yards from goal and hit a hard right-footed shot.
Atlanta United’s best chance came in the 44th minute when Meram broke down the left and into space. His cross was to Hyndman, who was in front of his defender but oddly dummied it instead of shooting. The ball rolled to Vazquez, whose shot from 7 yards sailed way over the crossbar.
Atlanta United broke through in the 53rd minute. Martinez passed to Gressel, who drove at Montreal’s back line. As he dribbled past one defender, the ball went to Hyndman, who hit a back-heel pass back to Gressel for a left-footed shot. It was Gressel’s fifth goal this season. Gressel said a run from Larentowicz opened up space down the right channel. Another run by Hyndman also created more space.
“It wasn’t the greatest shot but it ended up being in the goal,” Gressel said.
With the lead, de Boer brought on Ezequiel Barco for his first minutes since the victory over Minnesota in the U.S. Open Cup on Aug. 27. He sustained a muscular injury in that game. Barco came on for Vazquez. Martinez moved into the lead striker role with Barco playing underneath.
Atlanta United wasted a chance to put away the game in the 71st minute with Martinez, with only the goalkeeper to beat, put his chipped shot over the crossbar.
De Boer made his second sub in the 76th minute with Villalba coming in for Martinez.
Montreal tied the game in the 81st minute on a goal by Bojan Krkic from a cross by Orji Okwonkwo, who got past Gonzalez Pirez and to the endline.
Atlanta United thought it had the winning goal on a Villalba strike with out five minutes remaining, but after a review the goal was taken off the board because Meram was judged to be offside on a chip by Barco during the play.
“When it’s offside, its offside,” de Boer. “That’s why we have VAR.”
Gressel said he wasn’t upset about the call because there were multiple chances for players to be offside on the play.
Atlanta United kept attacking, but Montreal goalkeeper Clement Diop made two outstanding saves: one of a Barco free kick and the second on a Villalba curling shot. Both shots seemed destined for the upper right corner.
“We are disappointed that we tied the game,” Parkhurst said. “It’s a game we should have won. Coming into the game we wanted to win. But it’s a better performance on the road than the last one. Montreal is a good team and it’s challenging to come up here and play. We were close to being able to close it out 1-0 and we had a good response when they did tie it up. Overall, a lot of things to be pleased about tonight.”
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