Atlanta United clinches MLS playoff berth with win over Montreal

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva #16 celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against CF Montreal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday September 23, 2023. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva #16 celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against CF Montreal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday September 23, 2023. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United clinched a playoff berth with a 4-1 victory against Montreal on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Goals from Xande Silva, Thiago Almada, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Edwin Mosquera were enough to help the team clinch a spot in the postseason after missing out in 2020 and 2022. Silva and Almada also had assists.

“This is just the beginning,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said.

Playing with the roof open and all three Designated Players in the starting lineup, it was a confident performance from Atlanta United in front of an announced attendance of 42,569. Though not every combination worked, Atlanta United passed, dummied and dribbled its way through Montreal time after time in putting eight of its 17 shots on goal.

Atlanta United improved to 13-8-10 and kept alive the possibility of finishing in at least fourth in the Eastern Conference. Doing so would give the Five Stripes home-field advantage, where it improved to 10-3-3, in a best-of-three first-round playoff matchup.

“Now we’ve got to try and finish as high as we can,” goalkeeper and captain Brad Guzan said. “We know that home-field advantage is huge for us. And so we want to try and finish in those top spots to be able to have that advantage.”

Pineda selected his strongest lineup with all three DPs, Giakoumakis, Almada and Saba Lobjanidze, in the 11. Giakoumakis started at striker with Almada as the attacking midfielder and Lobjanidze and Silva on the wings. Tristan Muyumba and Mattheus Rossetto started in central midfield, Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley as the fullbacks and Guzan in goal.

After pressuring Montreal, Atlanta United broke through with a goal from Silva in the 30th minute on an assist from Lobjanidze. It was Silva’s second goal, Lobjanidze’s third assist and Giakoumakis’ third assist The play started with Atlanta United breaking Montreal’s pressure near midfield. Wiley found Giakoumakis, who found Lobjanidze streaking down the right. Lobjanidze’s touch on Giakoumakis’ pass was perfect to control the ball. He found Silva making a run from the back post toward the center of the goal. Silva one-timed his shot.

“Offensively, was very fluid, very creative,” Pineda said. “I like the numbers inside ... the directness in our attacks.”

During Wednesday’s draw at D.C. United, Atlanta United’s offense lost its way. Bothered by a thick grass that made passing challenging, and forgetting to do some of the things like switching the point of attack, Atlanta United’s offense bogged down.

Three minutes after his goal, Silva sprinted into the box onto a pass from Wiley, who had run half the length of the field, rounded Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois and, just before the ball crossed the end line, found Almada making a late run into the 6-yard box. Almada one-timed the shot to give Atlanta United a 2-0 lead. It was Almada’s 10th goal, resulting in him becoming just the third player in franchise history to reach double-digits in goals and assists. The others are Hector Villalba in 2017 and Miguel Almiron in 2018. Wiley was credited with his fourth assist and Silva with his third.

“Tonight was the togetherness,” Silva said.

Montreal cut Atlanta United’s lead to 2-1 with a goal in the 40th minute from Ahmed Hamadi, who was unmarked at the top of the 18-yard box. He hit a left-footed shot into the lower right corner.

“I think in that moment, the end of the first half again, we started to take our foot off the gas a bit,” Guzan said. “That being said it was a fantastic response.”

Atlanta United scored again in the 46th minute but Giakoumakis, the scorer, was initially ruled to be offside. Referee Rubiel Vazquez reviewed the play and ruled that Montreal’s Gabriele Corbio, under pressure from Silva, passed it to Giakoumakis, which meant he wasn’t offside. After receiving the ball, Giakoumakis chipped Sirois. It was Giakoumakis’ 15th goal.

Ajani Fortune and Mosquera came on in the 71st minute for Muyumba and Lobjanidze. Jamal Thiare made his team debut in the 83rd minute, coming on for Giakoumakis. Tyler Wolff came on at the same time for Silva.

Mosquera finished the scoring in the 89th minute with his second goal this season. Almada earned his 16th assist, extending his league lead.

After taking seven points from three matches in the past eight days, Atlanta United will get a week off before its next match at Philadelphia on Oct. 4. The Union are one of the teams Atlanta United is competing with to finish among the top four.

Philadelphia and Columbus played to draws Saturday. All three teams are tied with 49 points but the other two currently have the tie-breakers in their favors.

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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 Atlanta United 4, CF Montreal 1

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.