Atlanta United still believes it will make MLS playoffs

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Despite injuries, lack of back-to-backs win, only one road victory and dropping 13 points at home, Atlanta United’s players believe they can still make the MLS playoffs.

But they and manager Gonzalo Pineda recognize they have to fix the issues that have plagued them all season, including in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls.

The nine-game trial begins on Sunday at Columbus. It is one of the five remaining games are against playoff teams. Two more games are against teams that, like Atlanta United, are competing for one of the seven spots in each of the Eastern or Western Conference playoffs.

“I think that a lot of teams that we play are in those playoff spots,” fullback Brooks Lennon said. “From here on out every match is a final for us. We can’t drop points from here on out.”

ExploreRewind: Looking back at the loss to Red Bulls

Andrew Gutman said if others on the team don’t believe it will make the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons they shouldn’t be on the team.

“I think everyone in this group believes that we can make the playoffs, believes that we can win games, and I know this is three points lost at home, but we can easily make it up on Sunday and be in a better position,” he said.

To do so, the team must stop making the “silly” mistakes on defense that have cost it many points, and it must be more clinical on offense, according to Pineda.

The mistakes made against Red Bulls -- a turnover in its defensive half and poor execution defending a set piece -- were the same it made against Cincinnati in the previous game. They are the same it has made in most of its losses.

“Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of important points,” striker Josef Martinez said. “But we’ve been suffering this since the first game, it’s not the first time. So we have to keep going, don’t lose hope. Last year we were in last place and ended up in the playoffs. We still have games to play, we’ve played less games, and we have to fight until the end. If we can, we can, if not, keep working. Maybe for the younger guys they have more years but we have to keep going, keep working.”

A bigger issue may be the team’s visible lack of confidence after the goals scored by Red Bulls in a four-minute span in the first half. That drop in morale has also been an issue this season.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of Atlanta United

“We couldn’t even connect certain passes and we started to not be as proactive as we started the game,” Pineda said. “And then, we concede the second one in a set piece and then it’s almost like a lot of, I don’t know, not a lot of motivation there to just connect the passes and go forward. We lost a little bit the control of the game.”

Pineda lauded his team for its fight near the end of the game in which Martinez scored and it had a chance to tie the game on a set piece. He said that fight is why supporters should believe the team can still make the postseason.

“The team is going to fight until the end, that’s what I can say,” he said.

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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 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

August 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

August 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

August 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

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