Atlanta United defeats Montreal while making key improvements

Atlanta United's Caleb Wiley celebrates after scoring a goal against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2023.  (Photo by Kathryn Skeean/Atlanta United)

Credit: Kathryn Skeean/Atlanta United

Credit: Kathryn Skeean/Atlanta United

Atlanta United's Caleb Wiley celebrates after scoring a goal against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2023. (Photo by Kathryn Skeean/Atlanta United)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Both of Atlanta United’s teams showed growth in applying pressure, building from the back, and attacking in Wednesday’s 2-1 win against Montreal at Al Lang Stadium.

It was an improvement from last week’s 1-1 draw with Memphis in Athens during which the second group outplayed the first, according to manager Gonzalo Pineda.

“This one, both groups were very, very similar in terms of performance. So very happy to see the progression,” he said.

And, that the team remained undefeated in its third preseason game on the road was also important, he said.

“Winning, they said it’s not important in preseason,” Pineda said. “It’s important for us because we get the habit of winning, winning, winning, and that was a good performance.”

Atlanta United’s first team, composed of many of the presumed starters, outplayed Montreal. Atlanta United created more chances and limited the Impact to a few long-range shots, most of which were deflected. The second team had a few breakdowns but it was facing a Montreal group that included several of its presumed starters.

“I think overall, we had the control of the game,” Pineda said. “Overall, I think there were just a few mistakes that we did. But we had also many, many clear chances.”

Atlanta United’s starting 11 was composed of goalkeeper Brad Guzan, fullbacks Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon, centerbacks Noah Cobb and Derrick Williams, midfielder Bartosz Slisz, Tristan Muyumba and Nicolas Firmino, wingers Saba Lobjanidze and Xade Silva, and striker Jamal Thiare.

Atlanta United’s second 11 was composed of goalkeeper Josh Cohen, fullbacks Ronald Hernandez and Aiden McFadden, centerbacks Luis Abram and Efrain Morales, midfielders Dax McCarty, Jay Fortune and Matias Gallardo, wingers Luke Brennan and Tyler Wolff, and Ashton Gordon as the striker.

The format was four 30-minute periods with each group playing two periods. Wiley, who was playing his first minutes this preseason, was subbed off after the first 30-minute period and replaced by Hernandez.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the third minute of the second period when a cross from the right by Lobjanidze was misplayed by Montreal’s goalkeeper, who was under pressure from Thiare.

Atlanta United’s pressure twice resulted in Muyumba receiving the ball in good shooting areas. His first shot from 25 yards was saved. His second shot, a chipped effort from 22 yards, floated wide to the left.

Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 on a long-range shot by Wolff after more poor play by a Montreal goalkeeper, who was way off his line.

Among the bright spots for Atlanta United was Wiley’s return. He suffered a dislocated shoulder while with the U.S. men’s national team. The injury happened on this same field against River Plate in a friendly. Atlanta United’s medical staff and trainers have had a lot of experience dealing with dislocated shoulders suffered by former players Michael Parkhurst and Greg Garza.

“He was amazing,” Pineda said. “He was very hungry, very active.”

Wiley said his fitness dropped a bit during his layoff but he felt great on Wednesday. Wiley said his focus in his 30 minutes was to feel confident and to work on the tactical tweaks implemented.

Wiley had several successful attacks and Montreal had no luck trying to build anything down its right side. Wiley said he appreciated the communication by teammates on the field, which is a point in the plan to improve a defense that was among the league’s worst last season.

“To be around this team is always an amazing feeling,” he said. “So to get back on the field was nice.”

Slisz played his second match with the club. He said it wasn’t as difficult as he expected.

“It’s going very well,” Slisz said. “We have still two or three weeks to until the first game. So I think it’ll be very good.”

Slisz said the communication between he and Tristan Muyumba is developing well as to who will go forward and who will cover spaces left exposed when teammates move forward. Pineda said there was a “big jump” in their cohesion

“We’re experienced players,” Slisz said. “It’s not so difficult to understand.”

The team didn’t get many chances to work on playing from the back against Memphis, which was satisfied with staying in its half and trying to be difficult to break down. Montreal was the opposite. Its players pressed and attacked at every opportunity.

“I think most of the time we got out of that type of pressure,” Pineda said. “So very happy with that. We need to polish up all of those, because there are a couple more moments that I want to make in the rotations. But we need to understand these basics first.”

Atlanta United will play Tampa on Saturday at Al Lang Stadium.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 at Columbus, 2 p.m.

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.

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