Five things learned from Atlanta United’s win against Charlotte

Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo #10 kicks the ball during the match against Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Saturday March 11, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Luiz Araújo #10 kicks the ball during the match against Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Saturday March 11, 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Martin/Atlanta United)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time in a long time, Atlanta United put everything together in Saturday’s 3-0 victory against Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium.

The offense, led by Caleb Wiley’s two goals and another by Luiz Araujo, was efficient in putting three of its six shots on goal in the net.

Its defense, led by Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan, posted its first shutout this season in picking up three valuable road points after earning only 11 away from home in 17 chances last season.

It was the third consecutive positive performance for the team under manager Gonzalo Pineda and perhaps proof that when most of the players on the roster are healthy, the strategy and tactics he wants can be successful.

Statistically, it wasn’t a typical Atlanta United game. It didn’t dominate possession. It didn’t play more passes. But it took advantage of most of its chances, which it hasn’t consistently done, and prevented Charlotte from taking advantage of its, which it also hasn’t consistently done.

“Was it perfect?” Pineda said. “... We weren’t dominating possession, disrupting their aggressive pressure. It wasn’t like that necessarily, but we adapted very well to every phase of the game, and that’s why I’m very proud.”

Here are four more things learned:

Wiley rocks out. Wiley, all of 18 years old, did a few significant things against Charlotte.

In addition to his first brace, he also assisted on Araujo’s goal. He became the fourth player in Atlanta United history to score two goals and have at least one assist in team history, joining Miguel Almiron, who did it three times, and Yamil Asad. In MLS history, he became the third player to accomplish that feat in one half, joining Alphonso Davies, who did it twice, and Bobby Convey.

Wiley said he knew something good was going to happen.

“I kind of got that feeling, actually, before the game,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. But I got a little feeling of that. But then just kind of after the second goal, I kind of thought that I was right.”

Lennon said the goals were a good reward for Wiley’s work ethic.

“He listens,” Lennon said. “He’s a kid that can come into the first team, which is a lot of pressure at times, and understand his role. Works hard. He’s always gonna give you 100% work ethic.”

In his remarks, Pineda tried to walk a fine line between praising Wiley while also giving credit to the team. Without Amar Sejdic’s tackle and Thiago Almada’s pass, Wiley’s first goal wouldn’t have happened. Without Robinson, Almada and Araujo, Wiley’s second goal wouldn’t have happened.

“It’s a team sport, and everyone is important,” Pineda said. “The team plays well, you will see individuals shine. For example, Thiago last week. Great performance by Caleb. He was very good defensively, and we are very high on him and think he will be a great player, and hopefully this game gives him more confidence.”

What’s next for Wiley. Pineda will have an interesting choice to make next week. The team signed Derrick Etienne Jr. as a free agent in the offseason with the goal of him starting at left wing. Because he was rehabbing an injury sustained while with Columbus last season, Etienne wasn’t able to participate in most of Atlanta United’s preseason.

Wiley has started in Etienne’s place and has done nothing to make it easy for Pineda to take him out of the lineup when the team hosts Portland on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“He’s someone that is, is constantly giving me advice and training and on the sideline,” Wiley said of Etienne. “So it’s good to have someone who’s much more experienced and somebody who’s telling me what to do.”

Pineda said the competition at each position, a result of there being very few injuries, is making the team better.

“Having the options ... is also part of how the players start to feel pressure to go to the next level,” Pineda said. “That’s very important.”

Proof of concept. Pineda referenced the importance of consistency in the lineup and its benefits by explaining that every player on the team knows what he is supposed to do when the team is attacking and when it is defending.

There was only one change in the starting lineup for Charlotte compared with last week against Toronto.

There were moments in the game against Charlotte when Wiley, who started at left wing, dropped back to try to block crosses. Almada chased back to intercept passes. Late in the game, Giorgios Giakoumakis, who came on as a striker in the 59th minute, dropped back to block a cross despite the three points being well in hand.

Charlotte put in 39 crosses, including corners, but put only three shots on goal and finished with a lower expected-goals total than Atlanta United (1.48-1.53).

“That’s how good teams start to build the cohesion,” Pineda said. “And so I was very happy with that from all of my attackers, how they defend.”

This isn’t 2022. After the Week 1 win against San Jose, Guzan was firm in saying that this season isn’t last season, when the team missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Lennon said something similar Saturday when asked about the importance of not giving up a goal in the minutes after Atlanta United scored. That was a big problem for the team last season.

“We’re not going to compare ourselves to different seasons,” he said. “This is a new year, 2023, different group. So we’re focused on the present moment and today, and we’re not going to worry about what has happened in the past.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA

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