Still a ray of sunshine left in Atlanta United’s cloudy MLS season

Despite all of Atlanta United’s dark times this season -- losing its best player, letting go of its coach, selling arguably its second-best player, injury after injury -- the team still can improbably make the MLS playoffs.

Yes, despite winless streaks of three, six and another current one of six games, the Five Stripes can earn a chance to play for a trophy.

One reason is that 10 teams from the 14-team East will qualify. Another reason is that some of the teams in the East, such as Atlanta United, have struggled for most of the season, leaving open the opportunity for someone to go on a non-losing streak and qualify.

But Atlanta United must win its final two games to improve its chances. It will host Cincinnati on Sunday and will play at Columbus on Nov. 8. The Five Stripes trail 10th-place Miami by two points. Chicago and D.C. United are between Atlanta United and Miami in 11th and 12th and also have 21 points each. Chicago also has three games remaining, giving it another opportunity to pick up points.

“We are going to look to the game on Sunday and try and win it and see where it gets us," interim manager Stephen Glass said after Wednesday’s 4-1 loss at Orlando. "Beyond that, there is no point looking at anything more right now.”

Some supporters have posted on Twitter that they would just as soon this season end so that the team can begin preparing for 2021. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. While Glass and the players are competing to make the playoffs, the front office can continue its search for a permanent manager while also considering roster moves for next year.

The players aren’t ready to start looking ahead.

“If we get these six points in the next few games, and Montreal, Chicago and some of those teams start losing games, then there’s always an opportunity," defender Laurence Wyke said. "So we just have to focus on ourselves, put that aside and just go for the three points each game. If we come short, we come short. But at least we give it 100 percent, you know?”

Atlanta United is 1-1 against Cincinnati. The win came in the season’s second game when the immediate challenge was replacing Josef Martinez, who sustained a season-ending injury in the opening win at Nashville.

That two-game win streak was the only one the team has put together this season. It will need another to bookend the season to make the playoffs.

“We have to finish well, more than for our futures but for the institution because it’s a big club with a strong infrastructure and we have to respect it and the crest," said striker Erick Torres, who scored the lone goal against Orlando.

"We have to focus on finishing well for our own futures and for the respect of the fans, the directors and the club that deserves the best.”

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Atlanta United coming games

Sunday vs. Cincinnati (4-13-4), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (10-5-5), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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