Entering Saturday's match, the formula for Atlanta United clinching a spot in the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs was simple. Win and in.
And Atlanta United took care of business. With a playoff berth in sight, Xande Silva and MVP candidate Thiago Almada scored in a span of three minutes to give Atlanta United a first-half lead over Eastern Conference side CF Montréal. The 5-Stripes added another two goals in the second half, the 15th of the season for Giorgos Giakoumakis and a late add-on from Edwin Mosquera, to defeat Montréal 4-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The result means Atlanta United locks up qualification for the MLS Cup Playoffs with three matches remaining in the regular season. It's the fifth time in the club's seven-year history in MLS that the team has qualified for the postseason.
"It's a very happy day for the whole franchise, the club, the staff, everyone, the players, the fans," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "But we still have many other things to achieve this year. We still have three games, so I'll have my coffee. Once we win a trophy, then maybe champagne."
Atlanta United struck first in the 30th minute with a superb team goal. Homegrown Caleb Wiley won the ball from CF Montréal and combined with Matheus Rossetto and Almada. The ball found its way back to Wiley, who continued the attack and sent the ball to Giakoumakis, who then moved it wide to Saba Lobjanidze. The Georgian international served a low driven ball into the box where Silva knocked it home -- and celebrated his second career goal for the club with a dance.
It was the goal scorer who set up Atlanta's second finish of the night minutes later. Wiley, again getting involved and being aggressive on the ball, sent a low cross from the left flank to Silva at the top of the 18-yard-box. The winger's long touch toward the end line drew out Montréal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois, but Silva made a cut to maintain control. With the opposing keeper out of position, Silva made a short pass toward the six-yard box where all Almada had to do was tap it in to make it 2-0 Atlanta in the 33rd minute.
The goal was Almada's 10th of the season. The Argentine has now recorded double-digits in goals and assists on the year. He joins Tito Villalba (2017) and Miguel Almirón (2018) as one of only three players in club history to record 10+ goals and 10+ assists in a single season.
CF Montréal prevented the clean sheet for Atlanta United and scored a goal of their own in the 40th minute. Midfielder Ahmed Hamdi cracked a left-footed shot from that was well-placed and slid past diving Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
"I think in that moment at the end of the first half again, we started to take our foot off the gas a bit," Guzan said. "It's a ball over the top, guy brings it down, cuts back in and we're not checking runners and we've got to be closer to guys. That being said, it was a fantastic response."
Atlanta United went ahead by another goal right out of the gate to open the second half. Silva applied pressure when Montréal held possession in Atlanta's attacking third and won the ball from a defender. Giakoumakis was in the vicinity and collected the loose ball, then chipped a shot over Sirois who was off his line. The goal was initially called back due to offsides. After review, VAR reversed the call and awarded the goal to Giakoumakis. Atlanta United extended their lead to 3-1 in the 46th minute.
Giakoumakis's goal draws him even with Hany Mukhtar of Nashville SC and Luciano Acosta of FC Cincinnati as leaders in the race for the Golden Boot. All three players have scored 15 goals.
CF Montréal played the final few minutes with 10 men on the field after defender Joel Waterman was shown a red card following a hard foul on Atlanta United striker Jamal Thiaré, who entered the match in the 83rd minute for Giakoumakis.
Mosquera, who came into the match as a second-half substitute, added onto the scoring with a goal in the 89th minute. On a play initiated on a pinpoint long ball from second-half substitute Tyler Wolff, the Columbian winger received a cross back into the box from Almada and slotted a shot with his left foot to extend Atlanta's lead to 4-1. Almada was credited with the assist, which extends his single-season club record to 16. He leads MLS in that category.
It was a good night for Atlanta, not only because the team punched its ticket to the playoffs, but because of the good form the team is continuing to play. Atlanta United has now scored 10 goals in its previous three matches and added 14 points since Leagues Cup. On Saturday, three different players (Silva, Almada, Giakoumakis) recorded a goal and an assist in the same match for just the second time in club history.
"It was a very, very positive game in many, many phases of the game offensively," Pineda said. "Offensively, it was very good, very creative. I like the numbers inside the box, the fluidity, the directness in our attacks. And then defensively, I really, really liked the way we were defending in the transition moments."
As part of the club's Unite & Conquer Cancer campaign. Atlanta United throughout the night honored pediatric cancer fighters, survivors, and their families, along with the nurses and doctors who treat and support them. Nine-year-old ediatric cancer fighter Hanna Clegg served as honorary captain before the match and 14-year-old pediatric cancer survivor Dakota Southerland, alongside one of her favorite nurses, Edwin, hit the Golden Spike.
Shots on target
Up next - A trip to Philly, then the final home match of the MLS regular season
Following three matches in eight days, Atlanta United will get a brief break. The next match for the 5-Stripes will be Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Subaru Park
Then, it's the final match of the regular season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when Columbus Crew come to town on Saturday, Oct. 7. It's our military appreciation match, so secure your seat today!