After some uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns mid-week, reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United hope a return home means a return to their typical form as they host the Montreal Impact in a key Eastern Conference matchup Saturday night.
The Five Stripes (8-2-6) were on the wrong end of a wild 3-2 loss at Toronto FC on Wednesday night, with the defeat marking the first time in 22 league matches they conceded more than two goals. Despite the struggles at the back, Atlanta was in position to steal a point out of Canada in the 98th minute, but Pity Martinez skied his penalty over the bar as he tried to convert a second time from the spot.
“It’s a bit chaotic. We had a chance to get a draw. Sometimes you make penalties, sometimes you don’t, it is what it is,” keeper Brad Guzan said. “I’m more frustrated and disappointed in the way we played for ninety minutes because it certainly wasn’t good enough.
“When you gift them a goal a minute into the game you really got your work cut out. On top of that we weren’t good. Talk about spacing, talk about being in really close to guys. We didn’t do any of that.”
Atlanta will again be without last year’s Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez, who is with Venezuela in the Copa America tournament. Midfielder Ezequiel Barco is also likely to miss a second straight match due to a knock picked up in the team’s U.S. Open Cup fifth-round victory at Columbus.
This will be United’s first match at home in league play since June 1, and the Five Stripes carry a 456-minute shutout streak at Mercedes-Benz Stadium into this contest. Guzan has recorded all five clean sheets in that stretch, with the last goal allowed coming in the 84th minute of a 2-1 defeat to FC Dallas on April 20.
Montreal (9-3-7) takes to the road following victories that bracketed the Gold Cup break. The Impact rode a brace from Orji Okwonkwo to a 2-1 victory over Portland on Wednesday night, scoring the winner on a turn-and-volley from 15 yards just insider the upper right 90 in the 66th minute.
“I think it was one of the best goals of my career,” said Okwonkwo, who spent last season with Bologna in Serie A, to the team’s official website. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. I’m very happy to have scored a goal like that. Coming from Italy into MLS is difficult, and there’s a certain adaptation period needed. I feel like I’ve adapted well so far.”
Okwonkwo’s four goals are second on the team, trailing only Saphir Taider (7). Despite a minus-six goal difference and scoring only 23 goals, the Impact are just two points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union heading into this weekend’s play.
Montreal has five players on international duty – Samuel Piette and Zachary Brault-Guillard are with Canada at the Gold Cup along with American Daniel Lovitz and Panama’s Omar Browne – and midfielder Michael Azira is with Uganda at the African Cup of Nations.
Atlanta has won both home contests against Montreal since entering MLS in 2017 and the last three overall. Josef Martinez had a brace in a 2-1 victory in Canada in the most recent matchup last season, while the since-departed Miguel Almiron had two goals in a 4-1 romp in Atlanta.
(Pity Martinez photo courtesy Atlanta United FC official Twitter account)