Atlanta United getting production from unexpected players

Atlanta United forward Adam Jahn, left, gets five from teammate Jurgen Locadia, right, after scoring a goal against FC Cincinnati during the 8th minute in an MLS match on Sunday, Nov 1, 2020, in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta United forward Adam Jahn, left, gets five from teammate Jurgen Locadia, right, after scoring a goal against FC Cincinnati during the 8th minute in an MLS match on Sunday, Nov 1, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

When Atlanta United’s season started so long ago - in February - it’s safe to recall that not much was expected of Adam Jahn or Jon Gallagher. Jurgen Damm and Marcelino Moreno were hundreds and thousands of miles away, respectively, playing for different teams.

But Atlanta United’s season may be remembered as a modest success or a disappointing failure by their performances in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Columbus. The team must defeat the Crew and get some help to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

The quartet played key roles in Sunday’s crucial 2-0 victory over Cincinnati that kept alive the hope of finishing as one of the top 10 teams in the 14-team Eastern Conference. Jahn scored on an assist by Damm. Gallagher won a penalty kick that Moreno converted for his first goal with the team.

“(Marcelino) Moreno’s only been here a few games, so we’re trying to bring him along as fast as possible and I think he is adapting really well,” Jahn said. “Our threats are our wingers. We have great attacking threats out wide, so we try to get them isolated one-v-one to beat their guy and then cross it in.”

How did Atlanta United reach this point of needing contributions from four players who were just lines on rosters nine months ago?

Jahn, signed from Phoenix in the USL during the offseason, became an important player when Josef Martinez was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in the season-opening game against Nashville. He has scored three goals in 20 appearances for Atlanta United. He has split time at striker with Erick Torres, who was signed in late July, and Gallagher.

Gallagher, drafted in 2018 after a standout career as a striker at Notre Dame, had yet to make an appearance for the team until previous manager Frank de Boer threw him into the mix as a fullback in the team’s disastrous MLS tournament showing in Orlando. De Boer and the team separated. Stephen Glass was named interim manager and used Gallagher more as an attacking player, either as a wide midfielder or striker. He has four goals in 15 appearances. He has also won two penalties. It can be argued that he has outplayed Ezequiel Barco, one of the team’s Designated Players.

“Jon’s performance level has been excellent,” Glass said. “Everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s done really well. He works really hard for the team. His quality going forward is good. We are delighted with what Jon has given the group. He’s contributed in the wins we’ve had.”

Damm was signed after his contract with Tigres in Mexico expired. He was rumored to be joining the Five Stripes for months before it was announced on July 1. After a slow start, the speedy winger has started to show his potential with two assists and a few beaten defenders in the past five games. He leads the team in assists having played in just 13 games.

“I think I feel I’m at 50-60 percent of what I can be able to give,” Damm said. “Physically, I know that I need to improve a lot. On the subject of my strength, to have the legs to play 90 minutes because at around 50-60 minutes I start to get tired. And I think to have more confidence. But I’m on a very good process.”

Moreno was signed from Lanus in Argentina on Sept. 20, a few weeks after Pity Martinez was sold to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia. Moreno, 25, was tasked with stepping into the middle of Atlanta United’s formation and becoming the team’s engine, something it hadn’t had since the departure of Miguel Almiron following the 2018 season and Darlington Nagbe following the 2019 season. Moreno played his best game in the win against Cincinnati with the goal, two shots, both on target, a chance created and a team-leading four tackles. He has one goal and one assist in five appearances.

The four seem to work well together. Damm and Gallagher offer vertical threats on the flanks. Moreno has shown an ability to put the ball into spaces that stress defenses. Though not quick, Jahn’s hold-up play has been underrated and his movement is better than he gets credit for.

Atlanta United will need everything it can get from them to have a chance to defeat Columbus.

“If we do manage to get in the playoffs, I feel that we can be dangerous," Glass said.

Atlanta United coming games

Sunday at Columbus (11-5-5), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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