Atlanta United can clinch playoff spot Saturday, but there’s a bigger goal

Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda gives directions during the second half of an MLS soccer match against Inter Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Atlanta.
 Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta United coach Gonzalo Pineda gives directions during the second half of an MLS soccer match against Inter Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United can clinch a playoff spot with a victory against Montreal on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But simply making the playoffs, something the team hasn’t done in two of the past three seasons, isn’t the goal. Atlanta United wants to finish among the top four so that it has a chance to host two matches in the first round of the playoffs.

Atlanta United is two points from fourth place, but the teams it is chasing have played fewer games. The Five Stripes have matches remaining against those teams, Philadelphia, which is in fourth, and Columbus, which is in third. Those two teams will play each other next weekend.

“It’s important that we at least maintain the same distance between us three, and then it’s going to be in our hands,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “But in order to be there, we need to win tomorrow. That’s very important. But to win, we have to play good. We have to have consistency in our performance throughout the 90 minutes. And I think the players are focused on that.”

The players are aware that they can clinch a postseason spot.

“Right now we’re treating this game like a final, and our focus is to get three points,” midfielder Matheus Rossetto said Friday.

Atlanta United’s position would be improved had it not dropped seven points from three of its past four matches. It was defeating D.C. United and Dallas, only to see them score a tying goal. It was defeating Cincinnati, only for it to score two goals to earn the victory.

“I think we’re frustrated with dropping points against Dallas when we were winning that game and controlling that game,” Rossetto said. “And the same thing against D.C. But I think all the players are believing in what we’re doing. We’re just focused on this next game, and I think the mentality is good.”

Atlanta United couldn’t ask for a better opponent than Montreal. The Canadiens haven’t scored in 10 of their 14 road matches this season.

Pineda didn’t want to hear about Montreal’s issues scoring away from Stade Saputo, saying he hates those stats.

“They have a very specific way of playing that we are aware of,” he said. “We just need to try to match their intensity, their aggression, and at home I felt like we always have more energy. So, I hope that’s the case tomorrow and we can play our best game.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0

Aug. 26 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0

Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2

Sept. 16 Atlanta United 5, Inter Miami 2

Sept. 20 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 1

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, 6 p.m.

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