Atlanta United faces immense challenge Wednesday against Philadelphia

Credit: Ben Jackson/Atlanta United

Credit: Ben Jackson/Atlanta United

Atlanta United’s game Wednesday at Philadelphia may be the most important of manager Gonzalo Pineda’s still-developing coaching career.

His team is only three points out of a playoff spot. A win Wednesday could move the team into a tie for the sixth or the seventh spot with six games remaining. It also would be the team’s first two-game win streak this MLS season, and it would provide an important boost of confidence.

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But the task is tremendous. Philadelphia is the best team in the Eastern Conference. It has scored more goals (57) and allowed the fewest (20), both by wide margins, than any other team. It has outscored its past two opponents 12-0.

That’s scary enough, but add in that Atlanta United tends to leak goals from seemingly innocuous situations, and that is why even a point Wednesday may be the best one Pineda has earned at Atlanta United.

“Trying to just be solid defensively, again, a big part of who we are is being good in possession,” Pineda said. “And that’s how we defend. And, obviously, that can turn into certain moments, we are a bit more exposed, and we have just to manage the ball in a very good way, trying to control the tempo, control the game, and we will, we will try to go that way. I always feel like the best way to defend is to attack and try to attack.”

Philadelphia’s attack features a trident of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre, who have combined for 38 goals. Gazdag plays as the head of the Union’s diamond midfield formation, which is unique in MLS. The Union will try to press opponents toward the sidelines to create turnovers from which attacks can be sprung. A key to beating the press and diamond, and keeping the defense in safer situations, is quick, long switches of the ball across the field.

“We have certain ideas on how we can disrupt their pressure, but also having an outlet if we are forced to play negative or something, we will have certain outlets trying to not be predictable in that scenario,” Pineda said.

If his team can break Philadelphia’s pressure, Pineda said it’s important that his team plays fast to take advantage of its numerical superiority. He said if they don’t, Philadelphia will just make his team’s life harder. Atlanta United has the talent with Thiago Almada, Luiz Araujo and the wingers to do that.

“Philly’s a tricky team. I always think Philly tries to bring out the emotional side of the game,” defender Andrew Gutman said. “They try to get in people’s heads. ... For us, I think it’s honestly staying disciplined, being clean with our touches. If we can do that, I think we can pick them apart and get Luiz and Thiago and whoever’s up there in these spots to be dangerous. And I like those guys’ chances one-on-one against the Philadelphia defenders.”

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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 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

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