It’s Friday, which means we’re at the halfway point of a double match week for Atlanta United. But it isn’t just any other double match week as the club is in the middle of one of its longest road trips of the season.
Like the trip to New York earlier this summer, the team is away from Atlanta in between the two away games, opting to stay in Philadelphia after its match on Wednesday. Atlanta United leaves the Northeast this afternoon after a training session and flies into the Pacific Northwest. The trip is roughly 2,400 miles coast to coast, which is about 43 hours by car or just shy of a 5-hour plane ride. The group trains there tomorrow to give the team enough time acclimate before a big matchup on Sunday.
Moving On Very Quickly
Atlanta United is coming off a tough midweek defeat to Philadelphia Union, a club in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. After conceding an early goal, Atlanta United fought back with a gutsy response against the Eastern Conference leaders and evened the match 1-1. However, the Union scored a goal seconds before the halftime whistle to head into the second 45 up 2-1.
That second Philadelphia goal appeared to affect the visitors’ momentum heading into the second half (and riled up Atlanta manager Gonzalo Pineda). After looking connected in the first half and putting five shots on goal, the 5-Stripes couldn’t add to that in the second half. The team gave up two more goals and fell 4-1.
There’s something to be said about playing the best team in the Eastern Conference on the road. And for a good portion of the first half, Atlanta United went toe-to-toe. Now, players are grateful for the turnaround that a midweek match brings so they can turn their focus more quickly on the next opponent.
“We have to move very quickly onto the next game,” defender Juanjo Purata said. “We can’t get stuck on the last match. We’ve got to look at the things that went wrong and try to fix them. But we’ve got games coming very quickly now, so we have to turn the page and move on to the next one.”
Across The Eastern Conference Table
We’re in the part of the season when we go week-to-week with playoff scenarios. How many points are needed? Where, after a full slate of games on the weekend, do other results put Atlanta United in the table? Which other teams do we need results from to help our cause? These are the questions we think about as we scour the standings before and after each match.
If there’s any silver lining to Wednesday’s result it's that Atlanta United is still in the hunt for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Even with the tough road loss, the club remains at 11th place with 33 points in the table. That keeps Atlanta United above Charlotte FC and Chicago Fire and within three points of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.
With only six matches remaining in the regular season, we may continue to play out those scenarios, but there’s one question with a very simple answer. What does Atlanta United need to do to make the playoffs? Win matches.
“We know there’s demands here from the club, for the quality of players that we have,” Purata said. “We know there are demands to make the playoffs.”
Preparing For Portland
With little time to linger on the midweek loss, Atlanta United is preparing for the next road match. Up next, the club travels to face its final Western Conference opponent of the regular season, Portland Timbers.
Portland is the eighth opponent out of the West on Atlanta United's 2022 regular season schedule. Similar to some of the other interconference matchups this season, Atlanta United meets a club they haven’t seen often – or recently. Atlanta United and Portland Timbers have met four times in MLS play and the previous meeting was in 2019. The most memorable matchup between the two was in 2018 when they faced off in the MLS Cup. Atlanta United won 2-0 to nab the first trophy in club history.
Much like its opponent, Portland Timbers is in the middle of the pack in its conference. Portland enters Sunday’s match above the playoff line in seventh place, but L.A. Galaxy is nipping at its heels just one point below. However, Portland is coming off beating one of the leaders of its conference, whereas Atlanta suffered a loss.
Nevertheless, both sides have a lot to play for on Sunday.
“If you compare this to a boxing match, we just lost the last round, but there’s another one and the bell’s about to ring,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “We need to be ready to because the opponent is going to come with everything. We need to be ready for the next fight, and that’s the process we’re going to do,” Pineda said.