Atlanta United starting to build momentum late in MLS season

Finally with some momentum from earning seven points in its past three games, Atlanta United now must wait two weeks before it will play its second-to-last regular-season game.

It’s been that kind of an unlucky season for the Five Stripes, who played arguably their best game this campaign in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with league leader Philadelphia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The team won’t play again until Oct. 1 because there is a FIFA-mandated international break.

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said the time will be used for rest, recovery and to work on improving some things as the team attempts to make the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons. It is in eighth place. The top seven teams in each conference qualify.

“I feel like it’s going to be a good two weeks of preparation before we go to New England,” Pineda said.

Four of the team’s players will compete with their national teams during the break. Josef Martinez and Ronald Hernandez will be in Austria with Venezuela, Thiago Almada will be in Miami with Argentina, and Caleb Wiley will be in Mexico City with the U.S. Under-20s.

“They’re going to be hyper-motivated,” Pineda said.

The momentum is developing from consistency in the lineup. For the first time this season, Pineda was able to select the same lineup and formation for the third consecutive game. It was impossible for him to do so previously because of myriad injuries. There have been at least 20 instances of injuries that have resulted in players missing multiple games.

Atlanta United dominated Philadelphia. It held the visitors without a shot on goal, resulting in its lowest expected goals (0.16) this season. The Union had scored 23 goals in their previous five games. It was Atlanta United’s second consecutive shutout.

“We need to have a balance,” centerback Alan Franco said. “Sometimes keeping the team is good for us because we find the form and we’re more secure. We also need confidence, sometimes changing players a lot can affect confidence, but I think we have to keep working and keep a system so the confidence keeps growing and get the results that we deserve.”

What Atlanta United couldn’t do was score. It put six shots on goal, but Philadelphia’s Andre Blake made several incredible saves to shut out the hosts.

“I feel like with a stable roster and us continuing to have time together, I feel we are getting some good momentum, but it’s hard to measure how this momentum compares to others earlier in the season,” Pineda said. “It’s unfair because there are different type of players now, what I like is that at this point, after everything that’s happened, we are two games away with still a chance to make (the) playoffs and play like this, which is the most important part to me. The team has a belief, has a fight in them, they have pride and that makes me very proud of them.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Aug. 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

Sept. 14 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 0

Sept. 17 Atlanta United 0 Philadelphia 0

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE