Atlanta United has another chance to build momentum

Atlanta United defender Derrick Williams (3) rejects the ball with a header during the second half against the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2024.
 Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United defender Derrick Williams (3) rejects the ball with a header during the second half against the Chicago Fire at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2024. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Atlanta United has a chance to build important momentum Saturday when it goes for back-to-back wins in Saturday’s MLS match at St. Louis.

It was in the same situation less than a month ago. Atlanta United had rocked Miami in Miami, came home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and cemented its coach’s firing with a 3-2 loss to Charlotte.

Other than a new manager, what might be different this time?

“We just have to be switched on every play,” centerback Derrick Williams said Friday. “I felt like we did that against Miami. And then when we came up with Charlotte, we didn’t do that. We weren’t switched on every play. And like Rob says, just being present in the moment all the time, so that’s going to be a big factor.”

Speaking after Wednesday’s 1-0 win against D.C. United, centerback Noah Cobb said he thinks the team has added more of that undefinable grit to its performances, which may help it against St. Louis.

“I think we ... bunkered down,” Cobb said. “We defended the set piece as well. I think that just shows where we’re at as a team.”

What Atlanta United won’t have is a consistent goal-scorer. Thiago Almada, tied for the team lead with five goals, can’t play because of yellow-card accumulation. Giorgos Giakoumakis, who scored five, was sold to Cruz Azul. Saba Lobjanidze, tied with Jamal Thiare with four goals, is with Georgia competing in the European Championships. Thiare hasn’t been able to start the past few games because he is working his way back from an injury. Daniel Rios has started instead.

Valentino didn’t seem concerned about the dearth of scorers.

“It’s just the reason that you have a team,” he said. “I think that’s what I love about being a part of a group, that it’s not one person. We’ve been talking about this shared responsibility, shared success, like it really is that, and I think that it’s unfortunate that Thiago is not going to be available for the game, but also, it’s a really good opportunity for the next person to step up.”

Valentino said he hopes the 11 on the field can create team goals. He referenced Almada’s individual moment of brilliance scoring against D.C. United, but it took Xande Silva’s holding up the ball and teammates making off-the-ball runs to create the space for Almada to get down the field before he uncorked a 25-yard bomb in the second half.

Williams said it’s up to all the players to collectively fill in any scoring gaps. He said they also have confidence in Rios, who has scored two goals, and Thiare.

It might be the opportune time for the team to score its first goal from a non-penalty kick set piece this season.

Williams said it’s not just bad luck that the team hasn’t yet scored from a free kick. Williams said he went through a similar situation when he was at Blackburn in England. He and the team kept getting close to scoring. Once they finally put one in, all the pressure was lifted.

St. Louis has allowed six set-piece goals this season, according to whoscored.com.

“I‘m just hoping I can get that one and then kick off,” he said.

A win would ensure that Atlanta United stays above the playoff line in the East. After Wednesday’s victory, the team moved from 13th place to ninth. A win Saturday, combined with a Nashville loss against NYCFC, would move Atlanta United into eighth.

Personnel updates. Valentino said that centerback Stian Gregersen and winger Tyler Wolff participated in training Friday and should be available Saturday.

“I feel like they will play some part and a role in the team,” he said.

Wolff is returning from an MCL strain suffered in early May. Gregersen is returning from a left hamstring injury.

Signing. Atlanta United announced the signing of fullback Matt Edwards to a Homegrown contract Friday that is effective immediately and includes one-year options for 2026 and ‘27.

Edwards is expected to back up Brooks Lennon at right fullback.

Edwards appeared in two of Atlanta United’s U.S. Open Cup matches, and has played in 10 matches for Atlanta United this season.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 Atlanta United 3, Miami 1

June 2 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 2

June 15 Atlanta United 2, Houston 2

June 19 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 9 vs. Indy Eleven in U.S. Open Cup

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.