Thiago Almada scores the winner

ORLANDO -- A goal by Thiago Almada lifted Atlanta United to a 1-0 victory against Orlando on Wednesday at Exploria Stadium.

It was a valuable win because it cut the team’s gap to two points in the chase for the seventh and final playoff spot in the MLS East with three games remaining. It trails sixth-place Cincinnati and fifth-place Orlando by three points each. It also gives the team (10-12-9) its first two-game win streak in league games this season.

“Perfect timing,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “I think it was very good. Now, it puts us in a very good position to fight for a playoff spot. We need to continue. Nothing is done yet. But the spirits and the passion that appears on the field is is very good.”

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Atlanta United will host Philadelphia, which leads the East, on Saturday.

Almada’s winner came in the second half and was a reward for several clear chances generated by the team that it couldn’t take advantage of. It finished with five shots on goal and an expected goals of 1.9 to Orlando’s three and 1.3. It was Atlanta United’s fifth shutout and first since tying Chicago 0-0 on July 30.

“I think after winning two games, we’re we’re growing in confidence, something that we’re building right now and we have to keep going but I think you know, we also have to be humble and sincere,” fullback Ronald Hernandez said.

Pineda kept the same starting lineup as he used in last week’s 4-2 win against Toronto. Dom Dwyer started for the third time as striker with Luiz Araujo on the left wing and Brooks Lennon on the right wing. The midfield was composed of Almada, Amar Sejdic and Santiago Sosa. The back four was composed of Andrew Gutman as left fullback, Hernandez as right fullback and JuanJo Purata, who scored three goals against Toronto, and Alan Franco as the centerbacks. Raul Gudino started the third consecutive game in goal. Josef Martinez was on the bench for the fifth time in the past six games that he’s been eligible to play.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 72nd minute on a goal by Almada, who was cleverly played in by Gutman, who hit a back-heel pass. Almada broke into space and had to only beat goalkeeper Pedro Gallese. It was Almada’s sixth goal and the team’s second shot on goal in the half. It was Gutman’s second assist.

Almada said the pass from Gutman was perfect. He wanted to pass the ball to Martinez, but realized he had a one-on-one.

“I think that the team is playing better,” said Almada, who was recently called in to the Argentina camp for its preparation for the World Cup. “We’re starting to understand each other better. Obviously, after two wins in a row it gives a lot of confidence.”

Until then, it was a fairly close game.

Orlando came closest to scoring first in the 26th minute when Ivan Angulo got behind the line and caught up to a through ball from Maurico Pereyra. He cut a cross back where Gudino, Franco and Sosa collided. It appeared that Sosa stepped on Franco’s left wrist as the ball was cleared. Franco was in noticeable pain as he walked off the field with the team trainers. His wrist and forearm were covered in red tape. He returned to the game.

“Another proof of the heart of the team,” Pineda said. “He was able to continue for another fantastic 45 minutes.”

Atlanta United 1, Orlando 0

Playing like Pineda wants, Atlanta United went right through the middle of Orlando’s defense in the 37th minute. The sequence culminated with Araujo rounding Gallese and taking a shot with his weaker right foot that lacked power. Orlando’s Kyle Smith was able to catch up to the shot and clear the ball just before it crossed the goal line.

Atlanta United came close again in the 45th minute when Dwyer played in Gutman inside the penalty box. His shot from eight yards hit Gallese in the groin. He stayed down for several minutes.

Still scoreless, Martinez and Matheus Rossetto came on for Dwyer and Sejdic in the 56th minute.

Without a shot on goal in the second half, Pineda brought on Edwin Mosquera for Lennon in the 67th minute. Mosquera came in on the left with Araujo shifting to the right. Ronaldo Cisneros and Caleb Wiley came on for Araujo and Almada in the 87th minute.

“I wouldn’t say we were in control in the sense that we always want to control in a certain way, which is good possession and dictating the tempo,” Pineda said. “Today, it wasn’t that type of game. What I like about today’s game is is my team understood how to react to that, how to adapt to that situation.”

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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 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

August 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

August 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

Sept. 14 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 0

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE