Atlanta United’s circumstances aren’t getting easier to break winless streak

Atlanta United forward Jamal Thiaré (29) reacts after deflecting a shot during the second half in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Atlanta. Los Angeles FC won 1-0 over Atlanta United. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)



Atlanta United forward Jamal Thiaré (29) reacts after deflecting a shot during the second half in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Atlanta. Los Angeles FC won 1-0 over Atlanta United. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Atlanta United, as a team, is adrift with circumstances looming that aren’t going to make ending its nine-match winless streak any easier.

Saturday’s 1-0 loss to LAFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium sets the stage for the team to go to Miami on Wednesday. The Herons, without Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets, traveled across the continent and defeated Vancouver 2-1 on Saturday, so the challenge for the manager Gonzalo Pineda is huge.

If Atlanta United doesn’t win, it will have gone two months since its last victory. Past stretches of futility have resulted in the termination of previous managers Frank de Boer and Gabriel Heinze. Those were under a different president, Darren Eales, than who is leading the franchise now, Garth Lagerwey. Normally media-friendly, he and Vice President Carlos Bocanegra have turned down (through a request made to the club) an interview request about the direction of the franchise.

Lagerwey and Pineda have experience in seeing franchises go deeper and deeper only to see them rebound. It happened when both were at Seattle. Pineda was an assistant at Seattle in 2017 when it won five of its first 16 matches. Seattle rallied to win nine of its next 18, part of which included a 13-match unbeaten streak. Atlanta United will need a similar turnaround. It is already five points behind the ninth and final playoff spot, and 11 behind the fourth spot, which comes with homefield advantage in the playoffs. If Atlanta United doesn’t somehow reach fourth, based upon its awful road record (0-3-3), it seems probable that it won’t go far.

“Sometimes you’re not going to be up always,” winger Xande Silva said. “You never know how tomorrow will be. We’re gonna go up again. And I’ve seen worse to be honest, and I think we just need to believe in ourselves and keep playing the way we trained.”

Here are a few of the issues facing Atlanta United as it attempts to climb the table:

On Wednesday, it will be without goalkeeper and captain Brad Guzan, who was given a red card against LAFC. Atlanta United could appeal the card but they may want to save that attempt for later in the season.

It will also be without starting midfielder Bartosz Slisz, who traveled to Poland after Saturday’s match to attend to a pre-scheduled personal matter.

It will likely have striker Giorgos Giakoumakis but, based upon the team’s history of integrating players back into the starting lineup as they are returning from injuries, he will come off the bench. Without Giakoumakis and with Thiago Almada limited to 30 minutes off the bench because he is also returning from an injury, Atlanta United created just three decent chances against LAFC and two of those were from outside the 18-yard box. The team has produced one goal in its past 434 minutes across MLS and U.S. Open Cup.

Oh, and Miami will likely have Messi back.

If Atlanta United doesn’t defeat Miami, its next chance will be when it hosts Charlotte on June 2. Charlotte will probably play in a low block and try to hit Atlanta United on the counter. That tactic has proven very successful in frustrating Atlanta United. LAFC didn’t play in a low block but did start with three centerbacks for the first time this season. Pineda said that surprised Atlanta United, which started with two strikers for the first time this season. Those two strikers combined for two shots, neither on goal. Pineda said the strikers were too often going into the same spaces.

“We couldn’t penetrate as much as we wanted but certainly it was working in some moments,” he said. “We were trying to be more aggressive, but we were broken a couple of times. That is the tactical debrief.”

Atlanta United will then have a week off before a stretch of three games in eight days that starts with Houston on June 15 at home before it goes on the road at D.C. United and at St. Louis. The team will still be without Slisz, who will then likely be with Poland competing in the European Championships, and will also be without winger Saba Lobjanidze, who will be with Georgia in the Euros. It may also be without centerback Luis Abram and fullback Ronald Hernandez, who are likely candidates to be called into the national teams of Peru (Abram) and Venezuela (Hernandez) for Copa America. There is an outside chance that Thiago Almada will be called into Argentina’s team, as well. He wasn’t called up for the friendlies that will precede the tournament, which will start June 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If Lagerwey and Bocanegra were to decide to make a managerial change, and neither have said that’s even a possibility, the gap between Charlotte and Houston would make sense.

Though Atlanta United’s locker room was understandably somber on Saturday, there is still belief that the team can find the form it had earlier in the season when it won two of its first three matches.

“I have seen plenty of teams make late runs in this League and go on to win the Cup,” centerback Derrick Williams said. “I’ve seen Seattle do it recently, and many other teams do it, and I think we are definitely capable of doing that, so we just have to take it one win at a time. I fully, 100%, believe that we are going to be in the playoffs.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.