Atlanta United faces important week

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Atlanta United faces a week that likely will make or break its probability of making the MLS playoffs.

On Wednesday, it hosts the New York Red Bulls, a team it has yet to defeat in 11 regular-season matches.

On Sunday, it plays at Columbus, which has lost once in its past 11 games.

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“It’s a very important week, but I think six points are on our minds,” striker Ronaldo Cisneros said. “We saw last game we’re able to get a point on the road, but the Eastern Conference table is very tight, so we want to try and win all our games.”

After a 2-2 draw with Cincinnati on Saturday, Atlanta United dropped to 13th of the 14 teams in the East. The team (7-9-8) trails Miami (9-10-6) for the seventh and final playoff spot by four points. The Red Bulls (10-8-7) and Columbus (8-6-10) both are above the playoff line.

The team is starting to gain confidence. It lost once in its past six games. The run started after the loss to Austin at home, which resulted in a 70-minute postgame team meeting.

The team also is confident because the last time it played the Red Bulls, it played arguably its best soccer for 82 minutes. But the Five Stripes walked away with nothing because of two mistakes in the final eight minutes that resulted in a 2-1 win for the hosts.

“It’s being truthful to our identity, try to play, and we know the reputation of Red Bulls,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “They’re a very good team on the high pressure. They like to press super-high, intensity, all together trying to block all the channels for passing lanes and stuff like that. And we just tried to do it better than them on the buildup. And that’s the intention that we will have again.”

There are improvements that Pineda hopes to see. Some of those happened against Cincinnati. The first 30 minutes saw Atlanta United moving the ball quickly from side to side or up and down the field. The passing was breaking the hosts’ lines. It easily could have been leading 3-0 at halftime, but similar to the loss to the Red Bulls, two mistakes resulted in the team trailing 2-1 at halftime.

Pineda wants to see Wednesday more of what he saw early against Cincinnati.

“The little thing that maybe we need to improve a little bit is in the final third, our attacking movements, our numbers inside the box,” he said. “Even though I felt that Cincinnati we were good in certain moments, we still can put more pressure, more numbers, more runs inside to create a little bit more chaos in the opponent.”

Pineda must figure out how to do this while balancing the workload of his players, which face the second of three games in eight days.

“It’s hard,” Pineda said. “But also we have to be smart. And, at the same time, we have to be aggressive in our line of choices and our game-changers on the bench. So, we have to be smart, but at the same time be aggressive and go game by game at times.”

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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 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

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