Atlanta United wasted a chance Saturday to strengthen its playoff probabilities by losing at Montreal 2-1 at Stade Saputo.
A goal by Jake Mulraney in the early moments of the second half was offset by two by Romell Quioto minutes later.
With the loss, Atlanta United (10-9-9) remains stuck on 39 points and dropped from sixth place to eighth, outside of the seven-team field for the playoffs. The team has six games remaining. It will play next at Toronto on Oct. 16.
In a worrisome sign, the team has scored only two goals in its past three games after scoring 10 in the previous three. As in the previous games, a 1-0 loss at Philadelphia and 1-0 win against Miami, there was too much dribbling, not enough off-the-ball runs, and poor decision-making too often against Montreal. The team created nine chances but put just three shots on goal. Montreal created eight chances and put five shots on goal.
“I’m not concerned about us not scoring many goals. I would be concerned if we don’t create enough chances,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said.
Defensively, Montreal capitalized on a missed tackle in the midfield for its first goal, and a turnover for its second. Pineda described both as “silly” errors.
“So it’s all about being clinical in the boxes,” he said.
Pineda on Friday said there would be rotations within the starting 11. The lineup was composed of striker Josef Martinez, midfielders Ezequiel Barco, Matheus Rossetto, Santiago Sosa and Brooks Lennon, with defenders Ronald Hernandez, George Bello, Brooks Lennon, Alan Franco, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Luiz Araujo started on the bench, and Marcelino Moreno wasn’t in the game-day roster for “personal reasons.”
With those absences, Walkes, a centerback with two goals, was the team’s third-leading scorer in the lineup.
Atlanta United’s first shot on goal didn’t come until the 38th minute, when Barco tried a half-volley from 17 yards. It was saved.
Atlanta United’s next-best chance came in the 45th minute when Barco was in on goal, but he kept feinting and dribbling and then chipped it off the top of the crossbar.
Sosa followed that with a shot from that 25 yards that curled toward the top right corner until it was saved by a leaping James Pantemis, who pushed it aside with his right hand.
To try to spark the offense, Pineda subbed on Araujo and Mulraney and took off Martinez, who didn’t play as well as he did against Miami, and Hernandez, who also struggled. Pineda said Martinez felt tightness in his hamstring, which is why he was taken off.
Barco and Araujo played as false-nine strikers, a tactic that worked well against Orlando a few games ago and didn’t work at all against Philadelphia two games ago.
It took less than three minutes for the substitutes to impact the game. Araujo picked up the ball about 25 yards from goal in the center of the pitch. He played it into space about 18 yards from goal. Mulraney ran onto it, took a touch and hit a right-footed shot into the lower right corner to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute. It was Mulraney’s first goal this season and Araujo’s second assist.
Taking Atlanta United’s hard-fought momentum, Montreal answered in the 50th minute with a goal by Quioto, who got away from Walkes to hammer a right-footed shot past Guzan from a tight angle. Walkes wasn’t the only one at fault. Franco missed the tackle when he stepped into the midfield. His movement forced Walkes to slide over toward the middle, which created a gap between him and Bello. It was through that space that Joaquin Torres played the ball for Quioto to run onto.
“I think managing the game, especially after we go up one zero, we can’t you know, we then concede a couple minutes later,” Lennon said.
Montreal wasn’t done.
Following a turnover by Franco, Montreal earned a penalty kick in the 54th minute when Walkes attempted to tackle Torres, who had gotten behind the team’s back line. Quioto scored to give Montreal a 2-1 lead, and Walkes received a yellow card.
Pineda subbed on Franco Ibarra for Walkes in the 68th minute in an attempt to shore up the midfield, which was being exploited by Montreal.
“I think everybody fought until the end, and that’s the part that I liked, where we were trying when we’re losing,” Pineda said. “I want the team to continue attacking and performing, and I felt that today the team fought and the team played up to a certain standard that is good enough. But at the same time we have to learn how to control after scoring a goal.”
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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 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1
Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0
Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0
Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0
Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2
Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0
Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0
Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1
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