Atlanta United faces ‘massive’ two games

Atlanta United has won two of its past 10 MLS games.

It lost yet another player to a freak injury for several weeks.

It is dropping in the standings in the Eastern Conference.

Now the Five Stripes face two challenging road games – at the fourth-place Red Bulls on Thursday and at second-place NYCFC on Sunday, places where they have yet to win in eight regular-season games.

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“It’s massive,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “I mean, we always try to go game by game, right? I think it is the right way to go. But yes, especially after the loss against Toronto. And the way it happened, it’s just very important to get something out of this game.”

Not only has Atlanta United never won in four games at Red Bull Arena, it has yet to score. Pineda correctly points out, though, that the team came very close last season to stealing all three points before it had to settle for a 0-0 tie, narrowly missing a goal late in the game.

Settling for a tie, and getting at least one point, would be much better than dropping all three points like it did in last week’s 2-1 loss at Toronto, a game in which the team gave up the second goal with 12 minutes remaining. Pineda said it was a game in which the team didn’t play well because it had trouble connecting defense to offense. It didn’t put a shot on goal in the first half.

“We already wasted an opportunity to win something in Toronto,” Pineda said. “So now we need to regain that in the next two games in New York. So yes, this game is very important. We will do our game plan to try to win the game and to try to get those three points that are very valuable in this moment.”

Luiz Araujo said the players recognize that the results need to improve but feels that the team is playing better every game. During this 10-game stretch in which it has earned nine of a possible 30 points, it has scored 14 goals and allowed 14 goals. So, luck has played a part in its results, or lack thereof.

“I think we’re playing together, I think we have to improve defensively and offensively,” said Araujo, who is tied for the team lead with four goals. “We have to score more goals. But those are the things that we’re trying to do. And I think that we’re hoping that we can show it in this game.”

Atlanta United could be helped at the Red Bulls by the absences of several of the team’s key players. Aaron Long, Luquinhas and Jason Pendant are questionable because they are in the COVID-related health and safety protocols. Red Bulls played without them last week and lost 2-0 at LAFC.

Even without Long and Luquinhas, the Red Bulls still will ferociously press Atlanta United. Pineda said it won’t change his team’s approach of trying to play out of the back.

“They will game plan, just like us,” Pineda said. “We always try to be that type of team that is trying to create, and creating is harder than destroying. So we like that challenge of even playing away. We want to create, we want to be the team in possession, we want to be that.

“Maybe at times we fail like we did, but we want to create that culture of Atlanta always wants to play football and we want to play good. We didn’t the last game, but that’s the intention we always want to play.”

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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 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

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