Atlanta United, D.C. United split points

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Atlanta United continued its playoff push with a 1-1 draw with D.C. United on Wednesday at Audi Field.

Saba Lobjanidze’s goal in the first half was equaled by D.C. United’s Gabriel Pirani in the 80th minute in a match that was very ragged. It was the first time the teams have played to a draw.

Atlanta United (12-8-10) had a chance to clinch a playoff spot if it won and certain results happened in three other matches. The other results happened. Instead, the team will have to try again when it hosts Montreal on Saturday.

“Disappointed for losing two points, but after the other results that happened it probably is not a bad result,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And with a good result on Saturday, then we have seven points out of nine. That puts us in a very good position to compete for the top four, which is the objective.”

Atlanta United is in sixth place. It trails third-place Columbus and fourth-place Philadelphia by two points. Columbus has played one less match. Philadelphia has played two less.

Atlanta United may consider itself fortunate to get the valuable point. D.C. United took three times as many shots (19-6) but both teams put just four shots on goal. D.C. United finished with 2.0 expected goals to Atlanta United’s 0.7.

“I think anytime that we we play, if we’re not going to win, we can’t lose,” fullback Caleb Wiley said. “It’s a tough one. I thought that coming into the game, we’re the better side. So to leave with only one point is not what we wanted. But it’s the point. And it helps us. I know that there’s some other teams around the league that kind of helped us in our standings.”

Pineda made three changes to the starting lineup from last week’s 5-2 win against Miami. Ajani Fortune was given his third start in central midfield, replacing Matheus Rossetto, who was being rested. The other two changes were Lobjanidze in for Edwin Mosquera and Tyler Woff in for Xande Silva. The rest of the lineup was composed of striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, attacking midfielder Thiago Almada, central midfielder Tristan Muyumba, centerbacks Miles Robinson and Luis Abram, fullbacks Brooks Lennon and Wiley, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute on a goal by Lobjanidze from a cross by Wolff, who forced a turnover in D.C. United’s defensive third on the left side. Wolff took a touch, looked up and saw Lobjanidze streaking into the box. He one-timed the shot. It was Lobjanidze’s third goal and Wolff’s first assist this season and second of his career. It snapped D.C. United’s shutout streak at 335 minutes.

Lobjanidze said it felt great to score but he would rather have had the three points.

Atlanta United was having great success switching play from its left to its right, and then attacking with Lobjanidze.

After its goal, Atlanta United lost its way. Pineda said the switches of play stopped and the team started to force passes. Some of those became turnovers.

Wiley said D.C. United’s press was effective. Neither Pineda nor Wiley thought that fatigue was a factor.

D.C. United created, but wasted, several scoring opportunities. Some were the result of sloppy Atlanta United passing in its half of the field that resulted in turnovers. The hosts took 11 shots in the first half, putting none on goal, despite taking most from 12 yards or closer.

Both teams looked tired in the first half. D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney selected the same starting 11 as he used in last weekend’s match.

Neither team did much in the opening minutes of the second half.

Pineda subbed on Mosquera and Silva for Lobjanidze and Wolff in the 59th minute.

Abram was called for a handball, and given a yellow card, in the 63rd minute. The handball resulted in a penalty kick. It was the second consecutive match that happened to Abram. However, referee Lukasz Szpala, after reviewing the play, changed his call and rescinded the yellow card because Christian Benteke was judged to be offside in the attacking sequence.

The overruled called fired up D.C. United.

Pineda countered by subbing on the experienced Rossetto for Fortune, who received a yellow card in the 61st minute, for the final 18 minutes.

Pineda said he considered switching to three centerbacks but wanted to see what D.C. United would do with its substitutions.

D.C. United got its equalizer in the 80th minute when Pirani shot from just inside the 18-yard box. It came on D.C. United’s 16th shot and third on goal.

The next 10 minutes were important to Atlanta United.

Three matches ago, it was leading Cincinnati 1-0 in the second half until it gave up two goals in the final 15 minutes and lost 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

JuanJo Purata and Machop Chol came on in the 90th minute for Muyumba and Giakoumakis. It was then the team switched to a back five with three centerbacks. Pineda said he will reflect on if he should have made the switch sooner.

D.C. United created a decent opportunity in stoppage time but Ruan’s shot from 18 yards sailed over the crossbar.

Atlanta United held on. It didn’t win, but it didn’t lose. It got what could be an important point in its chase for the fourth spot.

“I feel like it’s a positive that we sustained,” Pineda said. “We say when we cannot win, we don’t lose. So that’s a good way to put it and we’re able to sustain the pressure from from their side.”

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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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