Through eight matches in 2018, Atlanta United is now unbeaten in their last seven and have yet to be defeated inside the walls of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, for a majority of the match Saturday, it looked like both of those runs may come to an end after an early Montreal goal. But patience prevailed.
“We had a good response,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “We never panicked. We never veered away from our ability to play football, to pass the ball (and) move the ball. We still created chances. It was just a matter of when that first one was going to come to kind-of unlock things and force them to come out a little bit more, and then once we got the first one, obviously we all know what happened after that.”
‘Bouncing back’ would be an understatement as Atlanta roared back in the second half, scoring four goals in the final 20 minutes to top the Impact 4-1 and reaffirm their dominance at their home venue. While they couldn’t quite find the net for the first 70 minutes, Guzan was never concerned with whether they’d get on the board.
“I would have been worried if we weren’t creating chances, and we were,” said Guzan. “So, it was just a matter of time. If you give these guys enough chances, you can probably argue that we’ve got the best attack in the league.”
The goalkeeper’s evaluation of his team’s attack isn’t just a subjective opinion, the stats are there to back it up. With 21 goals already this season, Atlanta United leads MLS in goals scored in 2018 as well as boasting the best goal differential in the league with +12. So, it’s no surprise the team has so much faith in their ability in the final third.
“We know that we’re going to create chances to score four or five goals every game,” added captain Michael Parkhurst. “It’s just a question of if we're clinical in front of the net and limiting the other team’s opportunities. Brad (Guzan) made a huge save when it was still 1-0 which was really important for us today and credit to the guys for sticking to it for 90 minutes because it was a tough one.”
A tough one it was with the visitors already entering the match with a defensive approach, and after an early goal, staying compact was the name of the game. That 11-man behind-the-ball strategy presented a frustrating situation for a team like ATL UTD who thrive in transition and getting players into space, so imaginative attacking was crucial with patience at the core.
“That’s just where we have to just continuously attack and continuously exploit space – move the ball and try and find gaps,” said reigning Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel. “I think we stayed patient. We did that and then found goals. That's really all that matters.”
Parkhurst added, “It’s tough to play against a team that from minute one sits back like that, but that won't be the last team that does it like that. We just need to be patient and learn how to deal with it, and I think that today will give us confidence for (the) next time (when) that occurs.”
Every competition is a learning experience, presenting its own difficulties and forcing teams to find a solution, and Atlanta United has been able to successfully work their way through seven consecutive matches now. And while the confidence level is high, the players know the only way to keep up their unbeaten run is to maintain focus game-to-game.
“It’s high (our confidence). We know that,” said Guzan. “We understand we’re in a good moment. We understand it’s a long season. It’s not easy to sustain this for long periods of time. That’s now the challenge.”
Their next challenge will be in Chicago this Saturday as they face the Fire on the road, but perhaps the bigger test will be the following Wednesday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the Red, Black & Gold will host Western Conference leaders Sporting KC who sit just below Atlanta in the Supporters’ Shield standings. Make sure you’re there for the midweek matchup by securing your ticket here.