Atlanta United knows it needs to be better

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 runs with the ball during the match against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday March 17, 2024. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United

Credit: Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 runs with the ball during the match against Orlando City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday March 17, 2024. (Photo by Jay Bendlin/Atlanta United)

It was either a good sign, good luck or a some combination that Atlanta United, despite playing very sloppily, posted its second win and first shutout in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Orlando on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United consistently committed unforced turnovers, many in its half of the field, that ended attacks. But goals from Saba Lobjanidze and Giorgos Giakoumakis, combined with an improved defense, were enough.

The team didn’t fulfill manager Gonzalo Pineda’s hope of playing better in all phases than it did in the previous week’s 4-1 win against New England. But it did enough, which may not have been the case the previous seasons.

“It was not necessarily better, in some ways (than last week),” Pineda said. “We still need to do a couple things better, especially on the ball. I think we were not sharp and too often we lost the ball in areas where we don’t normally lose the ball.”

Thiago Almada, one of the best players in the league, uncharacteristically seemed to have the most trouble with his decision-making. The player who led the league in assists (19) last season completed just 80.8 percent of his passes. He passed up two scoring opportunities in attempts to pass to teammates. Neither connected.

Almada acknowledged after the match that he didn’t play well but was glad the team won.

Pineda said he wasn’t worried about him after the match.

“In the first half, once he got on the ball, he was very dangerous,” Pineda said. “It was at the end where he started to feel a little isolated and like he needed to dribble three or four defenders. As a team, we were tired at the end and there were not as many players committing forward as we did in the first half, when he had more options, so he started to dribble too much and that led to losing possession.”

Almada wasn’t the only player guilty of sometimes being wasteful. What saved the team this season was its commitment to defense.

Saba Lobjanidze’s work rate up and down the right wing was obvious. His sprint from Atlanta United’s defensive third into Orlando’s defensive third resulted in the first goal in the ninth minute. Pineda said Lobjanidze committed in the preseason to work harder.

In addition to getting forward to join the attack, Lobjandize would hustle back to support Brooks Lennon in defense down the side that Orlando consistently attacked.

“Honestly, I feel like I have improved my defensive skills and I know I’m helping the team, Brooks [Lennon] especially, and our midfield too, but it’s still not fantastic, so I need to improve and get better,” Lobjanidze said.

Atlanta United will need to focus on keeping its defensive focus while improving its attack this week while without several starters. Giakoumakis, Almada, midfielders Bartosz Slisz and Jay Fortune, fullback Caleb Wiley and centerback Luis Abram are among those players who have been called up to their national teams for matches this week and will miss Saturday’s match at Toronto.

“We talk about competing, we talk about being willing to do some dirty running and put in real work and the guys did that,” Brad Guzan said. Certainly we were tired in the second half and we still had to go up and down. So from a competitive standpoint, I thought we were excellent, we’re really good. But overall, we need to be better.”

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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 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

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 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.