Atlanta United will host Montreal on Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, looking to win its second MLS game this season and snap a four-game winless streak.
Manager Gabriel Heinze and the players said they are making incremental improvements in all aspects. Now it is time to get results.
Though the season is young, Montreal is in first place with eight points from five games, compared with Atlanta United’s five from four. Like Atlanta United, it has a new manager, Wilfried Nancy, who was unexpectedly named after Thierry Henry’s surprising resignation.
The Canadian club, currently headquartered in southern Florida to ease COVID-19 travel protocols, has taken to Nancy’s coaching.
“A team with a clear idea of the aspects of the game,” Heinze said. “It will be a great game for my team. We are going to play against a very hard, a very well-worked team.”
Here are five things to watch:
The crowd. More than 40,000 supporters are expected to attend in the largest crowd for an Atlanta United game since it hosted Cincinnati and more than 69,000 in March 2020.
Though it was more than a year ago, winger Jake Mulraney said he remembers how loud that game was and is looking forward to hearing the supporters Saturday.
“There are a handful of games where you can’t hear anything on the pitch,” he said. “That was one of them.”
Heinze likes to communicate to his players throughout the game. Doing so may be challenging because of the expected noise. Mulraney said he’s confident that Heinze will get what he wants to the players and from the players.
Tired legs. In an uncommon occurrence for Atlanta United this season in a league game, it will be the team with the fresh legs because it will not have played in a week. Montreal should have the tired legs because it played and defeated Miami 2-0 on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale.
Heinze said he didn’t think it is an advantage for either team.
Mulraney said he thought getting a week between games is “massive.”
“A week to prepare and recover helps a lot,” he said.
Atlanta United played three of its previous league games against Orlando (0-0 draw), New England (2-1 loss) and Miami (1-1 draw) just a few days after it played in a Champions League game. Atlanta United defeated Chicago 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the league game in which it had a week to prepare.
Who will score? Atlanta United has scored eight goals in eight games. It has scored one goal or less in seven of those eight games. A bright spot is that Josef Martinez scored the lone tally in last week’s draw against Miami. It was his first goal in eight games this season and first in more than 400 days. Because the team will be without injured playmakers Ezequiel Barco and Jurgen Damm, the burden of scoring will again fall to Martinez.
Counter attacks. Because it played Wednesday, and because its two goals against Miami came on counterattacks, Montreal likely will try to bunker and strike when Atlanta United losses possession.
The Five Stripes have been susceptible to counterattacks this season. Miami’s tying goal came on a counterattack. Philadelphia’s three goals in the first leg of the Champions League series came from counterattacks.
Atlanta United must be wary, particularly if Dorde Mihailovic, Romell Quito and Bjorn Johnsen play for Montreal. They combined for the team’s two goals against Miami.
Defending set pieces. Miami couldn’t capitalize on the numerous chances it created on set pieces against Atlanta United. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez missed three chances. Brek Shea missed another.
Heinze acknowledged the team’s issues, citing that Miami’s players were taller than Atlanta United’s as part of the reason. Centerback Miles Robinson credited Gonzalez Pirez’s ability for helping to create his chances.
Montreal also has tall defenders it can bring up on set pieces. Aljaz Struna is 6-foot-2, and Kemal Miller and Rudy Camacho are 6-foot.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com