Things learned from Atlanta United’s victory against Inter Miami

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda Reyes, right, moves away as Atlanta United defender Stian Gregersen (5) slides out of bounds during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At left is Inter Miami midfielder Robert Taylor. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda Reyes, right, moves away as Atlanta United defender Stian Gregersen (5) slides out of bounds during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At left is Inter Miami midfielder Robert Taylor. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said it’s possible that Atlanta United will continue to use the 3-4-3 formation it deployed in running past Lionel Messi and Inter Miami 3-1 on Wednesday at Chase Stadium.

The Five Stripes broke out the formation for the first time this season in part because Pineda said he wanted to make sure they had more players in the midfield to defend Messi and Luis Suarez. Not only did Atlanta United do that, but on offense it made Miami look slow and old when it created a turnover and attacked. There was often yards of space in front of Atlanta United’s players when they would turn and run at Miami’s goal.

“I think it looked really, really good,” Pineda said. “We have to see game-by-game what is better for us. We certainly looked really good and have to assess this game individually and from there maybe try to build some momentum with this formation. I have to take a look ahead to Charlotte (on Sunday), I haven’t seen anything.”

The stats emphasized Atlanta United’s dominance: more shots (26-13), more shots on goal (8-6), more expected goals (3.4-0.7) and more chances created (22-12). Messi and Suarez combined for one goal and seven shots, three on goal.

“We were missing one more gear compared to Atlanta, and that was evident in the first half and during the second half,” said Inter Miami manager Gerardo Martino, who led Atlanta United to the MLS Cup in 2018. “It was a night where the team regressed compared to other games. I think we were very well outmatched, and they beat us well.”

Pineda typically has preferred to use a 4-3-3 formation in which the team tries to dominate possession with the hope it will lead to more chances created. The results have been muddled. Before Wednesday, Atlanta United was 21st in goals scored (17), but sixth in expected goals (26.76) and eighth in shots (207). It had produced only one goal in its 434 minutes and was attempting to end a nine-match winless streak.

The formation switch, combined with Miami’s double-edged sword of committing players forward but not having the speed to get back to defend against Atlanta United’s fleet-footed attackers, played out like the decisive battle scene in a movie.

“The coach made the decision (on changing formation) and, as you saw tonight, it was perfect against this team, for this game,” said Saba Lobjanidze, who scored Atlanta United’s first two goals. On both, Lobjanidze had seconds to dribble and decide what he wanted to do before a Miami player moved to pressure him. “I was not surprised. I had a conversation with Gonzalo the other day, and he said he wanted more aggression and be more direct with my dribbling and show confidence on the ball. So, it was nice to have this conversation and then see it worked.”

Atlanta United’s defense was helped by having Stian Gregersen and Derrick Williams playing together as two in the three-man backline, which included Luis Abram.

Because of injuries to each, it was the first time that the two new signings started a match together since the third week against Orlando. Atlanta United is 3-1-0 when they start together with three goals allowed. Williams created two chances and Gregersen’s initiative to join the attack unbalanced Miami’s defense.

“Always fantastic (to play with him),” Gregersen said. “Very good player and with him, his specialty organization. We need everybody on the team to be competitive. And today it was a team, where it was a team effort.”

Pineda said he thought Abram had his best game with Atlanta United and was impressed by Noah Cobb, who subbed on for Williams, stepping in and defending against Suarez and Messi.

“There were difficult moments of the game where we didn’t have enough rhythm or losing balls in the buildup, but we always had a good base of three players defending,” Pineda said. “That was also part of the ‘why’ because I wanted to be protected in the middle during transition moments or when they were on the ball and we clogged the middle to not allow Messi or Suarez to not have a lot of rhythm. But I think the players did well both out of possession, in possession and in transition.”

All the firsts. Listing the firsts, or records, from the match:

It was Atlanta United’s 100th MLS win.

Atlanta United’s first win in 10 matches.

Atlanta United’s first road win this season.

Miami’s first loss at home when Messi starts since he joined MLS last season.

First loss for a club team in a match in which Messi scored since 2021 when Celta de Vigo defeated Barcelona, according to the stat website Opta.

Lobjanidze’s first brace for Atlanta United. Also Lobjanidze and his partner are expecting their first baby, a daughter, in July.

Lobjanidze’s first goal in the 44th minute was Atlanta United’s first in 268 minutes.

Atlanta United’s 26 shots were the most in a match this season.

Josh Cohen made his first start. He finished with five saves.

Caleb Wiley had his first assist this season, coming on Jamal Thiare’s goal.

First time Thiago Almada served as captain.

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 0

April 6 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

April 14 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

April 20 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

April 27 Atlanta United 1, Chicago 1

May 4 Minnesota 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte Independence 0 in U.S. Open Cup

May 11 D.C. United 3, Atlanta United 2

May 15 Cincinnati 1, Atlanta United 0

May 18 Atlanta United 1, Nashville 1

May 21 Atlanta United 0 (5), Charleston 0 (4) in U.S. Open Cup

May 25 LAFC 1, Atlanta United 0

May 29 Atlanta United 3, Miami 1

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.