Atlanta United’s dramatic win may spark offense

It came from an unlikely place, from an unlikely player, and when hope was almost gone, but Marcelino Moreno’s headed game-winner from the center of the penalty box to knock off Montreal 1-0 in the final seconds on Saturday may provide the spark that Atlanta United’s offense needs to get out of its rut with an important stretch of games upcoming.

“I’ll say this afterward that it’s almost a better feeling to score like that, than if we had scored in the 25th minute and won 1-0,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “It’s a morale booster. It’s a confidence booster. It wasn’t our best game, but sometimes you have to just get over the hump and find a result and tonight we did that.”

The goal was the team’s ninth in nine games across all competitions. The win seemed unlikely because to that point the team had put just two shots on goal in the previous 90-plus minutes, continuing a trend this season.

But a goal is a goal and now Atlanta United enters a stretch of games at Seattle and then at home against Nashville and Philadelphia with a polished sense of belief. Combined, those teams have 28 points this season and have allowed 11 goals in 16 games.

“I think it encourages us and we are prepared to attack,” Moreno said.

It’s no secret that Moreno hasn’t had the impact most expected this season, after joining the club near the end of the disappointing 2020 season and showing that he could be a difference-maker. He has looked out of synch with his teammates and uncomfortable on the wing for long stretches. Manager Gabriel Heinze said that Moreno is a player who gives and gives so he was happy that a reward was earned Saturday.

“As much as you try, football will pay you back,” Heinze said.

The goal was made more difficult because Moreno said he was cramping as he moved from the wing into the center of the penalty box to receive Jake Mulraney’s cross.

Guzan complimented Moreno after the game, saying that when he’s on the ball he’s always going to create something. It was Moreno’s second goal this season and fourth with the club but the first that wasn’t the result of a penalty kick.

“For him to get on the end of the cross and score the goal, couldn’t be happier for him,” he said. “Nobody expected him to pop up in the box ands core with his head. That shows his commitment to the group and the team, but shows his willingness to get in the box and his desire to want to score.”

Now the team will see if it sparks the offense.

Heinze said he thought the offense played well and that he can’t “program” it to score at will. The team created eight chances despite having 63.2 percent of the possession. Heinze credited Montreal for limiting his team’s scoring ability.

But the team has had issues against other teams not named Montreal. It has scored more than one goal in just one game. It can’t keep scoring one goal and hope to stay tied on top of the East, which is where it was with eight points after Saturday night’s results.

“It’s no secret that we want to score more goals and hopefully that will come,” Guzan said. “But sometimes, games like this come and you have to find a way. Whether it’s 1-0 or 5-0. Sometimes these 1-0 games will leave a lasting impression on the group. Hopefully tonight will do that.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 at Seattle, 4:30 p.m., Fox

May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN

June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE

June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE