United straightens ship for playoff push – Tech
Atlanta United continued their playoff push after a 3-0 second-place win over Orlando two weeks ago, in head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s first victory as United manager. United entered the game with two of their star players, Josef Martinez and Miles Robinson, who were unable to play after returning from their national team in World Cup qualifying.
Their combined absence did not seem to confuse the team, who started the game aggressively and recent acquisition Luiz Araujo almost scored from outside the Orlando penalty area.
The aggression will continue throughout the evening, with George Cambell scoring his first MLS goal in the 25th minute, followed by Marcelino Moreno with his own goal 13 minutes later. Between those and the third goal there were several close calls, with Ezequiel Barco and Moreno closing in with missed shots. Barco’s goal finally came just over 70 minutes later, after passing several defenders on their way to the game’s final score.
If anything, the Orlando game not only showed just how deep United have down the stretch, but that they can take down quality opponents without playing at full strength.
Four days later, last-place Cincinnati came to town and the Five Stripes took care of the business the way champion-level teams should.
After a near crash after a near miss in the last few matches, Araujo finally put a goal in a screaming run down the right side as if someone was holding the sprint button while playing FIFA, finishing with a magnificent curler from the left foot in the fifth minute.
Martinez’s 40th and 55th minute goals practically reduced the game to 3-0. Barco landed a free kick past Tyton in the 86th for the 4-0 win.
Atlanta took on their next opponent, DC United, on Saturday. The 3-2 victory propelled the team to fourth place for the playoffs. The first goal of the game came from Barco, who scored his seventh goal of the season in the 18th minute on another free kick. After hitting that free kick, the game opened up much more.
Josef Martinez also scored, followed by Moreno, who himself roamed the pitch, maneuvering around several defenders in the day’s game.
The win gives the gaining United a small advantage in the very competitive Eastern Conference. United have won their last three games by an aggregate margin of 10-2, a series of performances that propelled them to fourth in the Eastern Conference, which would guarantee them a home playoff game. The same team that lost two 2-0 leads this season, one in Philadelphia and the other in Nashville, both at home, completely transformed into a team capable of keeping the pressure on throughout the game.
One of the main stories of the turnaround is a change in Barco’s performance since the Tokyo Olympics. After scoring his own goal in the 18th minute, he netted Martinez’s 99th goal for United with an assist. After experiencing behavioral difficulties in his first seasons at United, his transformation into a key asset this year has been welcomed by fans and fellow players alike. His performance against DC was enough to earn him the Man of the Match award, earning him recognition for his recent solid play.
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda has received a lot of praise for the team’s success following his takeover. The training is not as rigorous as the Heinze program. He made sure players in international service get rest before playing for United. What is clear is that he trusts this team, which may be the kind of trust Atlanta needs.
There’s a lot at stake as United approach the final month of the regular season. It’s entirely possible for United to end the season after securing a playoff spot, although it’s also possible that the season will end in a disappointing playoff failure. Regardless, the arrival of Araujo and the success of Gonzalo Pineda portend a bright future for the young team.