Things learned from Atlanta United’s draw with D.C. United

Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington,  on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta United forward Saba Lobjanidze #9 scores a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, on Wednesday September 20, 2023. (Photo by Mitch Martin/Atlanta United)

Credit: Mitch Martin/Atlanta United

If Atlanta United wasn’t going to defeat D.C. United on Wednesday at Audi Field, it wasn’t going to lose either.

That was a talking point repeated by manager Gonzalo Pineda and players Saba Lobjanidze and Caleb Wiley after the team gave up a goal in the 80th minute to settle for a 1-1 draw.

“I told the players we’re disappointed for losing two points, but once they equalized the game, I thought that was positive that we sustained that,” Pineda said. “We say when we don’t win, we don’t lose, so that’s a good way to put it, and we were able to sustain the pressure from their side.”

With the draw, Atlanta United (12-8-10) remains in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. It trails third-place Columbus and fourth-place Philadelphia by two points. Atlanta United has matches remaining against both teams.

The Five Stripes will have a chance to clinch a playoff berth when they host Montreal on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Holding on. The “can’t win/don’t lose” talking point was important because the team has dropped points from several matches this season by allowing late goals. Four matches ago, it gave up two goals in the final five minutes to a victory against Cincinnati into a loss. Three matches ago, it gave up a goal in 62nd minute, four minutes after taking a 2-1 lead, to turn that lead into a 2-2 draw.

So, perhaps progress?

“It’s something that we’ve talked about a lot,” Wiley said. “I mean, especially in training, when we’re playing our small-sided games, Coach will say a minute left, and we have to really lock in and stay focused. And we’ve got to have that game mentality, even in training. So then when we come out here, we know what to do and how to lock down what to do. And we’ve got to do whatever we have to do to not let that ball go in the back of the net.”

D.C. United’s goal came from a quick transition, according to Pineda. The scorer, Gabriel Pirani, didn’t get closed down by an Atlanta United player.

Saba streak. Lobjanidze continued his torrid start with a goal in the 14th minute. In five appearances, he has three goals and two assists. To compare, Luiz Araujo, whose transfer to Flamengo opened the door for Atlanta United to sign Lobjanidze for a fee and salary that was much lower, had three goals and two assists in 16 appearances. Araujo was the team’s highest-paid player with a salary of more than $4 million.

“I’s really great, like statistics,” he said. “But first of all, I’m a team player. So for me, it’s most important if we win the game, so we will not lose the game. It’s a really good feeling. And for my confidence, also. But first is we have to win, right?”

Pineda said not more could be asked of Lobjanidze in attack. He said he will continue to work with the winger in the movements in attack the team has worked on, and his defensive positioning when the opponent has the ball on its right side.

Lobjanidze said he’s still learning about everything with the team.

GG and Almada. Giorgos Giakoumakis and Thiago Almada had off-nights compared with past performances. Pineda said that D.C. United played very physically by holding or grabbing at the players. He wasn’t being critical. He said D.C. United manager Wayne Rooney said before the match that would be a tactic.

Giakoumakis put one of his three shots on goal. Pineda said Giakoumakis was unlucky to not score. Almada, the MLS assist leader, put his only shot on goal and didn’t create a scoring chance for a teammate.

“I think more and more teams are going to try that,” Pineda said. “So we need to find solutions to finding better the spaces for them or movements or patterns of movement that we don’t allow that physical contact on them and they can receive the ball forward more often.”

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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 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0

Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2

Sept. 16 Atlanta United 5, Inter Miami 2

Sept. 20 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 1

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, 6 p.m.

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