Atlanta United gets important win against Philadelphia

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada dribbles during the first half of the match against Philadelphia Union at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday July 2, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada dribbles during the first half of the match against Philadelphia Union at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday July 2, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

A gamble by Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda helped his team defeat Philadelphia 2-0 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Switching to a formation it hasn’t consistently played since last season, Atlanta United earned the victory with goals by Thiago Almada in the first half and by Brooks Lennon in the second. However, striker Giorgos Giakoumakis was forced to leave the match in the first half because of a non-contact injury in front of an announced attendance of 43,527. Pineda said the team is hoping to have scan performed Sunday or Monday.

“It was massive, it’s huge,” Atlanta United captain Brad Guzan said. “It’s been a tough few weeks, but not because of a lack of effort or not because of a lack of desire, but to have things all come together tonight with a fantastic performance, and the result is a bonus on top of that. You play this game to win games, and tonight was a good night.”

The win was important for Atlanta United (8-5-8) for several reasons.

It moved to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind fifth-place Philadelphia, one point ahead of seventh-place Orlando and six ahead of ninth-place D.C. United. The points were vital because Atlanta United’s next two matches are on the road at eighth-place Montreal, which is 7-2-0 at home this season, followed by at third-place New England, which is 7-0-3 at home.

It was its second win in its past eight matches and fifth shutout this season, a confidence-building achievement for a group that has struggled this season, including a 4-0 loss at Red Bulls in its previous match.

It was its first win against Philadelphia, which last season played for the MLS Cup, since 2018.

Pineda said on Friday that he was considering changes to the formation and personnel to try to help a defense that was among the worst in the league with 35 goals allowed. He switched from two centerbacks to three, composed of JuanJo Purata, Luis Abram and Ronald Hernandez. Caleb Wiley and Lennon, who became the fifth player in franchise history to reach 100 starts in regular season matches, were the wingbacks with Franco Ibarra and Amar Sejdic the central midfielders, Almada the attacking midfielder and Machop Chol and Giakoumakis the strikers.

Defensively, Atlanta United would shift into a back five with the wingbacks playing the same line as the three centerbacks. When Atlanta United had the ball, the wingbacks and Sejdic would move forward and become passing outlets for Almada.

Atlanta United and Philadelphia each took 14 shots, but Atlanta United put seven on goal compared to the Union’s one.

“I think it worked,” Pineda said. “I think, of course, there are moments where we’re stretched and things like that, but allow allowing against this team only one shot on target, this is a massive accomplishment for me.”

Atlanta United appeared to earn a penalty kick in the fourth minute when Giakoumakis was tripped by Nathan Harriel as both attempted to reach a chipped pass by Almada. Referee Ted Unkel, after a video review, waived off the penalty kick and instead moved the ball one yard outside the 18-yard box. Almada’s shot was blocked by the wall. The ball came back to him and he hammered a right-footed half-volley into the lower right corner to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute. It was his eighth goal, six of which were scored from outside the 18-yard box. That’s the most in MLS this season.

Giakoumakis was forced to leave the match in the 29th minute when we appeared to suffer a muscle injury. He was running to track down a pass hit over the top. He didn’t reach the ball before goalkeeper Joe Bendik. Giakoumakis put his hands on his head near where Bendik reached the pass and then sat down on the turf. He didn’t appear to grab at any part of his body, which would indicate what happened. Trainers came out and appeared to look at his right hamstring. He was replaced by Miguel Berry in the 30th minute.

The new formation and personnel change seemed to work for the first 45 minutes. Atlanta United finished the half with seven shots, four on goal, to Philadelphia’s five and one.

Tyler Wolff replaced Chol in the 62nd minute.

Ibarra received a yellow card in the 75th minute. He will be suspended for the Montreal match because of accumulation.

Lennon capped the scoring with a shot that went between Bendik’s legs in in the 79th minute. It was assisted by Almada, his league-leading 10th, and Berry, his first. It was Lennon’s second goal. Berry was impressed that so many Atlanta United players touched the ball in the build-up to the goal.

“I think it’s going to be a turning point in season for us,” Berry said.

It capped a strong overall performance. Atlanta United created 10 chances, five by Almada after he creating none against Red Bulls, and finished with an expected goals total of 1.01. Atlanta United limited Philadelphia to 0.73 expected goals and nine chances created.

“I think the credit is always to the players because we can have the master plan here but they have the determination, the commitment, the hard work, the intelligence to play the game model and adjust at times, things that we didn’t review in the film or in a training session,” Pineda said. “I think it’s all in the players. So it was a great performance. I just told them that individually and collectively. It was fantastic.”

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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 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

July 25 at Miami in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

July 29 vs. Cruz Azul in Leagues Cup, 8 p.m.

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

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, TBA