Atlanta United’s attack finds a new level

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva #16 celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against CF Montreal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday September 23, 2023. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Credit: AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva #16 celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against CF Montreal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday September 23, 2023. (Photo by AJ Reynolds/Atlanta United)

Not advancing out of the group stage of the Leagues Cup may have, in hindsight, benefitted Atlanta United.

The three-week break gave manager Gonzalo Pineda and his staff a chance to work in the players acquired in the summer transfer and fine-tune tactics and ideas.

With Saturday’s 4-1 win against Montreal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United is tied for the most points won (14) since the Leagues Cup.

The soccer played by the Five Stripes was very imaginative and quick. Fullbacks became wingers. Central midfielders became strikers. Players found spaces that Montreal thought were covered or didn’t know were there.

The second goal, scored by Almada, was an example. Centerback Luis Abram passed the ball up the left wing toward a sprinting Caleb Wiley. He dummied the ball in full stride. It went to Xande Silva, who one-touched it forward to Wiley, and then continued his run. Wiley dribbled down the left channel. Once he get into the 18-yard box, he played it back to Silva, who was acquired in the summer window. Both runs seemed to surprise Montreal’s defenders. Silva took the ball and didn’t hesitate, splitting two Montreal defenders. Suddenly he was on top of Montreal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois. Silva made Sirois commit, beat him tot he right and then played the ball into the center of the box, where Almada had made an unmarked run past Montreal defenders. He tapped it in.

Brilliant runs. Unbelievable pace. Unmatched aggressiveness. No more “Horseshoe of Death”, when the ball is just passed around in a semi-circle by the back four.

“The togetherness was there,” said Silva, who also scored a goal to give him two goals and three assists in seven appearances. “I think what made us win tonight was our togetherness. That’s what you need and I think we’re going to keep working that way.”

Manager Gonzalo Pineda said he appreciated the fluidity and directness of the attacks. The team created 13 chances. Silva and Saba Lobjanidze, another of the summer signings, combined for six. Almada led the team with five.

“We need to continue getting good performances, and what I would say is that not only Xande and Saba, it is Edwin (Mosquera), Tyler Wolff, and Machop Chol in the moments that we have used them, and that competition has made all of them better,” Pineda said. “It feels like they are competing against each other as well on who is more productive, but at the same time, they are unselfish and trying to make the team successful. If they have to pass the ball instead of shooting, they do, and all of those little things are so important and create chemistry in the final third, so I am very pleased with all of my wingers.”

The attack is improved because the team has speed and decisiveness on the wings that it didn’t have before the summer window.

The acquisitions of Silva and Lobjanidze allowed Pineda to move Wiley and Brooks Lennon back to fullback. Both are thriving and have been given a license by Pineda to get forward when they see an advantage. Lennon has become very adept at getting into the middle of the field and creating advantages. Montreal tried to take that away. Doing so opened up space on the other side for Wiley to bomb forward.

Silva and Lobjanidze are using their experiences playing in Europe to make good decisions when they have the ball. They aren’t wasteful in possession. When they shoot, it’s usually put on goal. When they pass, it’s usually something simple, which results in the team maintaining possession. Plus, both are hard to dispossess. Lobjanidze already has three goals and three assists in six appearances. He is the third player in MLS history to have three and three in his first 250 minutes.

“We have a good relationship,” Silva said of Lobjanidze. “I have a good relationship with the players here so it doesn’t matter who plays on the wings or midfield or defender. We are always ready for the games. Everyone works hard and that is the most important thing.”

A few other items of interest:

  • Wiley made his 53rd appearance, the most by a Homegrown in franchise history. He passed George Bello.
  • With his goal, Almada became third player in franchise history to score at least 10 goals and have 10 assists in a season. The others were Hector Villalba in 2017 and Miguel Almiron in 2018.
  • Almada’s 16th assist extended his league lead and strengthened an argument for his MVP candidacy.
  • Giorgos Giakoumakis moved into a tie in the race for the Golden Boot with his 16th goal. He is tied with Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta, the favorite to win MVP, and Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar.
  • Jamal Thiare made his MLS debut. He played slightly more than 12 minutes “For now, I’m trying to get used to this, give my best in training,” he said. “Today the coach called me up and I tried to bring in my best as I said last time to the media. I am here to bring something, so if we need me, I will do my best to be the best version of myself.”
  • Atlanta United is off next week but will be keenly watching the match between Columbus and Philadelphia. The Five Stripes are tied with the Crew, Union and New England on points. The other three have played fewer matches. Atlanta United has matches remaining at Philadelphia and against Columbus.