Atlanta United 2, Montreal 0: 5 observations

Behind a goal from Hector Villalba and another from Jeff Larentowicz, Atlanta United picked up an important 2-0 win against Montreal but may have lost a key player in the team’s push for the MLS playoffs.

Miguel Almiron, arguably the team’s MVP, was forced to leave in the 17th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring injury sustained a few minutes earlier. He has nine goals and 13 assists this season.

Eleven minutes after Almiron was replaced by Julian Gressel, Villalba slammed a right-footed shot into the upper right corner to give the Five Stripes the only goal needed.

With the win, Atlanta United (14-8-7) needs just one more win to clinch one of the six playoffs spots in the Eastern Conference. They would become the first expansion team since Seattle in 2009 to advance to the postseason.

“I think we are almost assured of a playoff spot,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said.

Atlanta United will host Philadelphia on Wednesday. Atlanta United is 4-0-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where it has scored 19 goals. Atlanta United is unbeaten in its past 11 home games and has compiled a 10-2-2 record at Bobby Dodd Stadium and Mercedes-Benz.

Here are five observations about the game:

Playoff impact. With the win, Atlanta United moves from fifth place to third place in the Eastern Conference. It trails second-place NYCFC by three points despite playing one fewer game.

None of the players interviewed after the game said they are thinking about trying to get the second seed.

“We haven’t really talked about that,” Gressel said. “First and foremost we’ve talked about qualifying for the playoffs. We made a really, really big step today toward that today.

“This week, I’m sure we will talk about goals we might have left this year and what we can achieve in the regular season and then when the playoffs come.”

The top two seeds in each conference will receive first-round byes in the playoffs. The third- and fourth-seeded teams will get to host playoff games. The first-round playoff games will be played Oct. 25 or 26. The first leg of the semifinals will be played at the site of the higher seed Oct. 30 or 31. The second leg will be played at the home of the lower seed Nov. 5. The Eastern Conference championship’s first leg will be held at the home of the higher seed Nov. 21, with the second leg Nov. 28 or 29.

The MLS Cup will be held Dec. 9 at the site of the competing team with the best regular-season record.

The injury. Almiron left Sunday's game in the 17th minute with an apparent injury. Martino said Almiron will see a doctor on Monday. He didn't seem ready to say that Almiron will miss Wednesday' game.

Almiron, an attacking midfielder, has nine goals and a team-leading 13 assists this season.

Martino said he put Gressel in for Almiron because of his skills on offense. That move paid off on Gressel’s assist on Larentowicz’s goal.

The Five Stripes have endured injuries to several key starters this season. Josef Martinez missed 13 games because of an injury sustained while playing with the Venezuelan national team. Kenwyne Jones has missed time because of a knee injury sustained while playing with Trinidad and Tobago. Greg Garza has missed the past three games because of an injured hamstring.

Atlanta United has five games remaining. It will host Philadelphia on Wednesday.

First goal. Villalba opened the scoring with a rocket of a shot in the 28th minute. The play started with Villalba stealing the ball from Patrice Bernier about 25 yards from goal. Dribbling to his right, Villalba put the ball between Deian Boldor's legs, ran onto the ball and unleashed the shot. It was his 12th goal this season.

The goal was very similar to Villalba’s goal to defeat Orlando earlier this season: a right-footed hammered shot into the opposite corner.

“It was a great goal,” he said. “I felt a great sensation when I hit it. In games like this, you don’t want to score just one, you want to score a few. But I think this one is worth three or four.”

Second goal. Larentowicz scored his first goal for Atlanta United this season when he chested in a cross from Gressel in the 73rd minute. It was the 39th goal of Larentowicz's long career in MLS. The goal came in his 352nd appearance.

Of Atlanta United’s regular starters (non goalkeepers), only Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst had yet to score this season.

Larentowicz doubted the quality of the goal, saying Martinez should also get credit because the ball hit him first.

“Either way, it went in,” Larentowicz said. “I’m happy it gave us that extra cushion in the end.”

The goal was Atlanta United’s 63rd this season, which set a record for an MLS expansion team. The previous record was set by Chicago in 1998.

Scoring duel. The scoring duel between Martinez and Montreal's Ignacio Piatti, who came into Sunday's game with 17 goals each, didn't materialize.

Martinez had several chances, including a chipped effort in the second half that scooted past the post and left him smiling. He remains two goals behind league-leader David Villa in the race to win the Golden Boot, the award given to the top scorer at season’s end.

Piatti was mostly a bystander, marked out of the game by Carlos Carmona, Larentowicz and Anton Walkes. While Martinez had four shots, Piatti had zero.

Atlanta United has four shutouts in its past five games and nine this season.

“You can’t let him get 1v1,” Walkes said. “When he got the ball it was all about doubling him up and getting numbers around him. On that note, I think we did very well.”