Giakoumakis’ two goals take Atlanta United past Seattle

Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis (right) celebrates with teammates after a goal during the first half of the match against Seattle Sounders FC at Lumen Field in Seattle on Sunday Aug. 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis (right) celebrates with teammates after a goal during the first half of the match against Seattle Sounders FC at Lumen Field in Seattle on Sunday Aug. 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Atlanta United’s players said that the team’s final 10 MLS matches would be like 10 consecutive tournament finals in its push for the playoffs.

Giorgos Giakoumakis made sure the team got off to a great start.

The striker scored twice with his head, assisted by Brooks Lennon and then by Thiago Almada, to lead the Five Stripes to a 2-0 victory against Seattle on Sunday at Lumen Field.

“Both of them were really important; of course, the most important is to win,” said Giakoumakis, who is within one goal of tying for the league lead. “But if you combine the win with a good performance, it’s even better. It gives you a bit more confidence. And that’s something we were looking for.”

With the victory, Atlanta United (10-7-8) moved to 38 points, two behind third-place Philadelphia, in the standings. Atlanta United will host Nashville, which is in sixth with 38 points, on Saturday.

The shutout was Atlanta United’s was seventh this season and reflected the work on pressing and its defense in the middle of the field that the team worked on the past two weeks.

“I felt that we’ve been working very hard,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “When I say we, it’s the staff and the players, of course, on certain things that we felt were important from now on, to try to get that push to get in top four in the playoffs. And I think today we showed that we can do it.”

Pineda, in his return to Seattle where he formerly was an assistant before taking over Atlanta United during the summer of 2021, wasted no time starting some of the new players signed during the recent transfer window.

Xande Silva started at winger in support of striker Giakoumakis, with Edwin Mosquera on the opposite wing. Almada led the central midfield, ahead of Tristan Muyumba, another summer acquisition making his first MLS start, and Matheus Rossetto. Miles Robinson started his first MLS match in more than two months in partnership with Luis Abram as the centerbacks. Lennon and Caleb Wiley were the fullbacks with Brad Guzan in goal.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute on a header by Giakoumakis on a corner from Lennon. It was Giakoumakis’ 11th goal and Lennon’s eighth assists, setting a career high. Lennon deserved a lot of credit for the goal. His hustling play to stop a Seattle attack won a goal kick on Atlanta United’s end of the field. On the ensuing sequence, he forced the corner kick that resulted in Giakoumakis’ goal. It was Atlanta United’s eighth goal from a corner kick, the most in MLS this season.

“It means a lot,” Lennon said about setting his career high. “I put a lot into this game every single day. I put a lot of pressure on myself day in and day out to perform to perform at a high level.”

Atlanta United continued to easily play its way through Seattle’s lines. Pineda elected to bring Lennon inside, almost as a third central midfielder, when his team had the ball. Lennon said he felt very comfortable inside. Wiley also pinched in, leaving Silva and Mosquera with lots of space on the flanks.

Pineda said they used the tactic partially because it’s how they scouted Seattle. He said it’s also because of the team’s personnel.

“We have true wingers, we have true wingers now,” Pineda said. “Edwin Mosquera is completely fit, now he can start and then Xande Silva and then of course, Saba (Lobjanidze) is on the way. So those are two wingers. Now we can really try to get some possession through the middle, overload in the middle and then if the opponent closes down then we have the options always on the outside channels.”

Mosquera wasted two good chances. Silva wasted one in between those as Atlanta United looked for an important second goal. Giakoumakis was stopped by Stefan Frei a few feet from goal in the 36th minute after an attack that started with Muyumba tackling Joao Paulo to win possession in Atlanta United’s defensive third of the field.

Despite a raggedy effort in the final 10 minutes, Atlanta United finished the half putting five of its seven shots on goal, compared to Seattle’s one of eight. Atlanta United created seven chances.

Seattle maintained the control it established in the final 15 minutes of the first half into the second half. Atlanta United couldn’t consistently play its way forward anymore and instead turned over the ball numerous times. Seattle considered itself unlucky when a shot by Rusnak from 18 yards flew over the crossbar by inches in the 57th minute.

Pineda said part of the Atlanta United’s trouble came because Seattle is a quality team.

“When we scouted Seattle, they are top two, top three, number one in many, many good categories,” he said.

Atlanta United’s defense didn’t break and got its reward in the 65th minute when Almada surprised everyone by chipping a pass over Seattle’s backline to Giakoumakis, who headed the ball down and into the goal at the back post. It was Almada’s team-leading 11th assist and Giakoumakis’ 12th goal. He is one behind Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar in the race for the Golden Boot.

“It is important because at the same time, as far as I’m scoring, it will give my team (a chance) to win some games,” he said.

Tyler Wolff came on for Silva, who played well, in the 66th minute. Silva put three shots on goal and created one chance.

Amar Sejdic and Ozzie Alonso, in his return to Seattle, came on for Mosquera and Rossetto in the 77th minute. Miguel Berry and JuanJo Purata came on Muyumba and Giakoumakis in the 86th minute.

Seattle took 16 shots but put just two on goal. Atlanta United put seven of its nine on goal as it dominated possession with 63 percent.

“Performance tonight was great,” Pineda said. “Their decision making was very good most of the time. And I felt that they recognize the moments of the game very well. And they were brave. They were brave. I like the bravery of the team on the ball of the ball. More aggression. So we’re going in the right direction.”

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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 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0

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, 5 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