A good sign that Atlanta United wins without playing its best

Think back to Atlanta United’s games against Nashville and Philadelphia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Five Stripes had leads as late as the 80th minute in each game. Each game ended with a draw. Four valuable points dropped.

One of the many differences between the team in those games in May and June and now is that Atlanta United found out a way to close out Toronto 1-0 on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Three points won. After three consecutive wins, the team is now three points behind the sixth- and seventh-place teams in the crowded competition for the Eastern Conference’s final two playoff spots.

“There were a lot of games – early on – this season where we played really, really well, especially at home, and we just didn’t get the result,” said fullback Brooks Lennon, who was credited with the assist on Ezequiel Barco’s winning goal. “Now, we’re seeing those results come our way — maybe it’s one ball that’s a deflection like tonight where it goes in the back of the net, whereas in previous (games) at the start of the season weren’t going our way. It’s good to see results going our way — things, decisions starting to fall for us.”

In another good sign, the team won despite not playing its best game. It’s the second consecutive game the team grabbed a positive result despite a less-than-inspiring performance.

It finished Wednesday’s game with 21 shots, four on goal, and created 19 chances. But the players’ movement, or lack thereof, seemed static.

Lennon said the lack of movement was a result of the front line being too separated from the back line. The team broke out a 3-4-3 formation against Toronto in an attempt to get its best offensive players, which included new signee Luiz Araujo in his debut, onto the field at the same time.

Valentino is at least the third manager to try to use the formation with some of this personnel. It rarely has consistently worked.

“I think we just need to look at it over film because there’s times when we lose the ball, and we’re just too separated as a group,” Lennon said. “There’s too big of a gap. That creates a little bit of havoc at times trying to possess the ball because you don’t have players in and around you at times. We’re going to just fix those things that, I think, the group needs to improve on. Hopefully, we could watch the film and get ready for Saturday.”

The result was rescued by a bit of magic by Barco, whose chipped shot took a deflection before it looped over Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg and into the upper corner.

Interim manager Rob Valentino, another change between the games in May and June and now, expressed his displeasure at halftime and again after Wednesday’s game before acknowledging that a win is a win.

“In this league it’s important to win games like that,” Valentino said. “It’s important to win at home. I told them before the game, that you have to win at home. We have a lot of home games left. We have to continue to win at home.

“It’s important to the fans. It’s important to us. You have to make this place as close to what it was before, people being scared to come here. That’s what I told them after the match. A win is a win. I appreciate their efforts.”


Southern Fried Soccer

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE