Atlanta United ready for different Montreal test

July 21, 2018  - D.C. United midfielder Zoltan Stieber (18) deflects a shot by Atlanta United midfielder Chris McCann (16) during the first half in a MLS soccer game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, July 21, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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July 21, 2018 - D.C. United midfielder Zoltan Stieber (18) deflects a shot by Atlanta United midfielder Chris McCann (16) during the first half in a MLS soccer game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, July 21, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlanta United will face a much different Montreal team than the one it defeated 4-1 on April 28 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Impact, at the time considered one of the team’s worst teams because they lost six of their first eight games, have won five of their past seven,with one loss in their past seven, ahead of Saturday’s game at Stade Saputo.

“All the teams are now a little bit different than they were the first weeks of the season,” Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst said.

With a stronger defense, identifiable counter-attacking style and new confidence, Montreal has slowly climbed up the Eastern Conference table, where it sits in fifth with 28 points, 16 behind league-leading Atlanta United. The Five Stripes need a win to stay ahead of surging NYCFC, which posted its fourth consecutive win Thursday to reach 43 points with a game in hand, and the New York Red Bulls, who have won six of seven and have 41 points with two games in hand.

What hasn’t changed, and was the next sentence in Parkhurst’s answer, is that Montreal still has Ignacio Piatti, one of the league’s best players.

The Argentine midfielder has 10 goals and nine assists and should be considered an MVP candidate if the Impact make the playoffs.

“He’s somebody we have to be very aware of, especially when we are attacking,” Parkhurst said. “He puts in a little bit of effort defensively, but he’s got his mind on offense and getting into a good spot on a counterattack.”

Helping Piatti are Matteo Mancuso, an Italian forward who has two goals and an assist in 14 appearances, and Algerian midfielder Saphir Taider, who has five goals and three assists.

The Impact tried to bunker in against Atlanta United in their first meeting this season. It didn’t work. Atlanta United used two goals from Miguel Almiron and two from Kevin Kratz to beat the bunker.

But Montreal has refined its tactic, and Atlanta United isn’t sure if it will see the same thing Saturday.

“Going away from home I’ll say they will be all guns blazing and trying to come out and attack us from the start,” Chris McCann said. “They know they have the advantage of beating us there last year. It’s down to us to go there and put a good performance in a road game.”