Atlanta United’s impressive end to the regular season earned them a spot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Back in early August when the club went 12 matches in a row without a win, the MLS Cup Playoffs seemed like a distant fantasy. However, the club was able to turn things around and end the regular season with 51 total points, putting them at fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Let’s look at the second half of the season by the numbers and see how head coach Gonzalo Pineda and his team were able to turn things around:
From Aug. 12, the day that Pineda was hired, to the end of the regular season, the club’s record was 10-3-3, equating to 33 points. That point total is tied for the most in MLS during that time period. In July, the last time it played at TQL Stadium, Atlanta United had 13 points in 13 games. Since then, the team gained 38 points, including the significant stretch in September when it won four out of five matches.
The club's second half of season has been nothing short of impressive, and they look to continue their reign into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
In club history, there have been only two times Atlanta United has come from behind on the road and walked away with three points. Sunday’s 2-1 defeat over Cincinnati to close out the regular season punched Atlanta’s ticket to the MLS Cup Playoffs, and Pineda compared the comeback victory to how the entire season has played out.
“I think this game is a testament of probably what was the season for them,” said Pineda. “The first half of the season was not great, not a lot of points, then second half was very good. Credit to the players again.”
The first come-from-behind victory of the season came in late October, when a second half slot in from Josef Martínez gave Atlanta a 2-1 win over Inter Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The pair or second half goals led to three points that proved to be important for the team’s late-season run.
In his 24 appearances this season, Martínez has scored a total of 12 goals, which makes him tied for seventh in the league. However, of the 15 players above him, only one has played fewer total minutes. Martínez’s 0.66 goals per 90-minute average stands out above the rest, with four of those goals being game-winners. His lower minutes played comes from recovering from difficult injury this year, making him a solid contender for MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
Atlanta United’s defense has been a crucial component in their recent wins. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has come up big in several matches, with a save percentage rate of 77.2%. This rate is the highest in the league among keepers who have appeared in more than six matches. Guzan and the backline, led by Defender of the Year candidate Miles Robinson, will look to continue their strong play in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
On Aug. 6, Atlanta United signed forward Luiz Araújo, and the Brazilian made an immediate impact. In Atlanta’s five October matches, Araújo totaled three goals and three assists across the month’s stretch. His six goal contributions from October until the end of the regular season rank him tied for seventh in all of MLS. From his first match with the 5-Stripes in August, the striker has been an essential part of this team’s turnaround.
In 11 days, Atlanta United will take on NYCFC in Round One of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Last time out, the teams battled to a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 20. Atlanta holds the all-time record against NYCFC 4-3-3, and the winner of this match advances to face No. 1 seed New England Revolution in the conference semifinals.
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