It was the second time in as many games that the team scored in stoppage time to secure a positive result.
The final 10 minutes had to have taken away the taste of a 14-minute stretch in the first half in which it allowed three goals, with the first being a lowlight rarely seen in soccer: a team scoring almost immediately after its opponent takes a corner kick. That goal seemed to deflate Atlanta United, which soon allowed two more goals, neither of which could be described as hard-won. The poor play continued with another oddity: three subs to start the second half. And then the final oddity was a red card for a player who was on the field for all of three minutes.
“I think after that we started to see the best side of the team, which is the passion, the willingness, the never giving up, those things that actually I’m very happy about,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And then some leaders showing up. And then I think we got to point out that it wasn’t a good game at all.”
Atlanta United cut its deficit to 3-2 on a fantastic right-footed strike by Almada in the 85th minute. He faked out two players, readied himself and hit a shot into the upper right corner from 25 yards.
“Very happy to score my first goal for Atlanta,” Almada said. He said he couldn’t celebrate because the team was still one goal down.
Lennon tied the score with a free kick from 30 yards that went off goalkeeper’s Sebastian Breza’s hands and into the upper left corner. Lennon and Almada were standing over the ball. After a brief discussion, Lennon was the last man standing.
“Once I hit it, I knew it had a chance,” Lennon said.
Atlanta United (2-1-1) now will get two weeks to study and work before it plays at D.C. United on April 2.
Pineda made a couple of changes to the starting 11, including Marcelino Moreno earning his first start, at left wing, with Tyler Wolff moving to attacking midfielder. Martinez returned at striker with Lennon at right wing. The rest of the midfield included Matheus Rossetto and Ozzie Alonso, with Ronald Hernandez, Alan Franco, Miles Robinson and Andrew Gutman on the back line, and Brad Guzan in goal.
Despite playing Wednesday in the Champions League, Montreal fielded a strong starting lineup.
Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Martinez in the fifth minute. He benefited from a mistake by Montreal’s Ismael Kone, who passed it backward and right to Martinez. He took a couple of touches before hitting a right-footed shot. It was his second goal in as many games.
Then things got really bad for Atlanta United.
Montreal tied the score in the 28th minute thanks to a series of errors by Atlanta United. The sequence started with an Atlanta United corner. Lennon took the ball up field, away from Montreal’s goal, and under-hit a pass to Hernandez, standing in the middle of the field some 50 yards from goal and the last defender in front of Atlanta United’s goal.
Hernandez was first to the ball, but under pressure his attempted clearance went only a few yards up the field. Franco tried to get to the ball first but tripped, allowing Kone to one-time a pass into Atlanta United’s half with no defenders there to stop it because everyone went up field for the corner. Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic was the first to reach it. He rounded Guzan for the easy goal.
Pineda said that defending the transition was affected by a leg injury picked up by Franco at some point in the first half.
“It was a bad play at the wrong time,” Pineda said.
Montreal took a 2-1 lead in the 37th minute on a goal that was again scored too easily. Montreal switched play from its right to its left. Lassi Lappalainen ran onto the ball in the penalty box. Unpressured by Hernandez, Lappalainen hit a cross back toward the penalty spot. Kone beat Alonso to the spot and one-timed a shot for an easy goal.
Montreal took a 3-1 lead in the 42nd on a penalty kick by Romell Quioto. The penalty was earned because Robinson took down Kone in the penalty box. Kone was free because his marker was again slow to track him running into the penalty box.
“We just kind of lost our way,” Lennon said.
The finish of the first half was very similar to Atlanta United’s previous two games against Charlotte and Colorado, in which it controlled the first 20-25 minutes before its opponent slowly took the momentum.
“We quit playing,” Pineda said.
Saturday marked the first time since Sept. 12, 2020, against Nashville that Atlanta United allowed three goals in the first half.
Lennon said players were angry in the locker room with the way the goals were scored and the way they switched off, but he said they also began talking about how they were going to get back into the game.
Pineda wasted no time making moves. In came Almada, Jake Mulraney and George Campbell in place of Wolff, Hernandez and Franco to start the second half. Lennon dropped to right fullback, Mulraney came in at right wing and Almada came in as attacking midfielder. The plan was just to bring on Almada and Mulraney, but Franco’s injury forced a third change.
Atlanta United began to apply pressure. Martinez missed to the right in the opening minutes of the half. Gutman missed to the left a few minutes later.
With the score still 3-1, Pineda brought on Dom Dwyer for Moreno, who in the 64th minute hit a great pass to Lennon, whose influence in the first half mostly was limited to winning fouls (4). The team also changed formations but didn’t get time to try it because Dwyer was promptly given a straight red card in the 67th minute for a late tackle of Joaquin Torres.
Santiago Sosa came on for Rossetto in the 79th minute.
And then came the final fireworks.
With its three goals scored from outside the penalty box, Atlanta United became the first MLS team to score three goals from outside the penalty box in one game since it did so against Montreal in April 2018.
“Even though we’re not happy with ties at home, it almost feels like a win for us in the locker room because of the circumstances,” Lennon said. “We were down 3-1, were able to tie it 3-3 with a man down. That right there just shows real resiliency, fight, determination and you know the the never-give-up mentality which you know, every player should have.”
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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 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 10 at Charlotte, 1:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes
April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., Peachtree TV
April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN
April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN
May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX
May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2
June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
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
August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
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
Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE