Meram’s goals lift Atlanta United past Montreal

during their game against Atlanta United at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 29, 2019.

Credit: Logan Riely

Credit: Logan Riely

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer and a few of his players said they would need to play very well to defeat Montreal and its defense-first approach.

Atlanta United didn’t play well. But it did win in an effort that made manager Frank de Boer proud.

Two goals from Justin Meram, the first a superb shot from outside the box and the second from just a few inches in the 83rd minute, were enough to give the Five Stripes a 2-1 win on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They were Meram’s first goals with Atlanta United.

“They played with so much discipline because it’s so tempting to go into those narrow spaces where they force you to make mistakes,” de Boer said.

The teams combined for just five shots on goal, four by Atlanta United.

With the win, Atlanta United (9-6-2) has 29 points and made up some ground on the four teams it is chasing in the East. Atlanta United will play at Chicago on Wednesday.

De Boer made three changes to the starting lineup from Wednesday’s 3-2 loss at Toronto. Two of the changes were at fullback. Franco Escobar, who couldn’t play Wednesday because of yellow-card accumulation, replaced Michael Parkhurst at right back. Flo Pogba came in at left back in his first start at that position this season, and his second MLS start this season. The other was in the midfield where Meram came in for Dion Pereira. It was Meram’s second league start for Atlanta United. The rest of the lineup featured Brad Guzan in goal, Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez at centerback, Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel in the central midfield, Pity Martinez on the right and Brandon Vazquez making his second consecutive start at striker.

After Friday’s training session, de Boer and Parkhurst said they presumed that Montreal would try to bunker Saturday, with as many as 10 players behind the ball in a defense-first style that has worked well most of this season in carrying it to second place in the East.

Montreal did just that, playing banks of five in the back and four in the midfield, or four and five, when Atlanta United had the ball. Atlanta United frequently sent Gressel, Martinez and Meram on runs between the defenders to try to either compress the defense and open the flanks or stretch the defense to the sidelines and open creases in the middle.

The opening 34 minutes were dull. The most exciting thing was the pregame tifo featuring an Atlanta United jersey with “Stonewall” and the number 50 on the back to honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

And then Meram hit a stunning curling shot from 25 yards that found the upper right corner to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. It was Atlanta United’s first shot on goal. Martinez was given the assist.

Montreal returned the favor with a goal in the 50th minute on its first shot on goal. The tying goal started with a corner kick that came to Harry Novillo. His low, hard shot from 19 yards was redirected into the goal by Zakaria Diallo, who truthfully was standing in the way of the ball at the backpost more than he was trying to shoot.

“It’s something that can happen where the guy shoots the ball totally wrong and it comes into the feet of another player,” de Boer said.

Meram’s second goal came from a corner kick in the 83rd minute. It was assisted by Brek Shea, who came on for Pogba just seconds earlier, and Gonzalez Pirez. It was just Atlanta United’s fourth shot on goal.

“Finally we are on the good side of the score right now,” de Boer said. “A lot of times we have conceded the late goal. Today we get one. They really deserved it because they put a lot of effort into it today.”

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