Three observations from Atlanta United’s win against Portland

Before running over Portland, 5-1 last week, Atlanta United hadn’t scored five goals in a match since defeating Houston in July 2019.

It hasn’t scored a total of eight goals in consecutive games since September 2017.

The team is first in the East with 10 points and leads the league in goal difference (8). It has an MVP candidate in Thiago Almada, Young Player in Caleb Wiley and Defender of the Year in Miles Robinson.

If Atlanta United (3-0-1) isn’t back under manager Gonzalo Pineda, as its front office and supporters so badly want, it seems like it’s really close.

“Like I said, and I have said it to you guys before, I think it’s the ability of players to understand what is being asked of them on the field,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “To understand how we want to play as a group, but within that system allowing obviously talented individuals to express themselves and do what they do.”

Here are a few observations from the match:

1. Can it keep it going? The next challenge will be on Saturday at Columbus. The team will be without several players because they were called up to their national teams. That group includes Almada (Argentina), Robinson (U.S.), Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece) and key contributors Derrick Etienne (Haiti), Luis Abram (Peru), Ronald Hernandez (Venezuela) and Machop Chol (South Sudan).

The Crew (1-2-1) will be without Lucas Zelarayan (Armenia), Eloy Room (Curacao) and Milos Degenek (Australia).

2. Almada keeps rolling. Almada is the best player in MLS right now. There’s no doubting. His free kick against Portland was the work of a master of his craft. And Almada is just 21 years old.

“My jaw dropped,” teammate Derrick Etienne said of the goal. “I sat here and thought, ‘Dang this guy is different!’ I don’t know what is in the water or what was going on out there but it was amazing to see.”

Almada leads the league in goals (4), is tied for the league in assists (4) and leads in key passes (13). MLS stats differ from the provider of stats for matches. Those have Almada producing 13 chances created just in the past two games, including a career-high seven against Portland. Seven ties the second-most chances created in team history.

But it’s about more than just offense. Almada works. He led the team against Portland in recoveries (8), which means he was the first to a loose ball.

3. So does Wiley. Wiley, 18 years old, scored his third goal and added his second assist in the past two games.

His goal, a long sprint from one of end of the pitch to the other to get onto the end of a pass by Almada, was an example of determination ad some advice from Etienne.

“I just tell him to be confident and that he is a good player and that he makes really good runs off the ball,” Etienne said. “I told him, yeah you’re young, but you’re put in this position because you’re a good player.”

Wiley is the second-youngest player in MLS history to score a goal and have an assist in consecutive matches.

His assist on Gioumakis’ goal, his first, was an example of tactics that the team has been honing. It started with a long diagonal from Luiz Araujo to Wiley, who then hit another diagonal to the right for Giakoumakis to head into the goal.

“No. 1, it’s always a team effort, the players putting everything together in every training session, and working together on the field,” Pineda said. “Today, I’m very proud of everyone’s hard work and the reward is those moments of brilliance in the final third.”

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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 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