National Writer: Charles Boehm

Atlanta United shock Inter Miami: "This can be a good turning point"


Gonzalo Pineda and Atlanta United aren’t done and dusted quite yet.

The Five Stripes produced a huge performance for their under-fire head coach on Wednesday night, snapping a nine-game winless skid with their first road victory in 2024 regular-season play – against MLS-leading Inter Miami CF, of all opponents, an emphatic 3-1 W paced by two gorgeous long-distance blasts from Saba Lobjanidze.

“We are on the same page. So it's so big for us and the staff,” the Georgian international told reporters, after confirming his celebration of his first goal did indeed mean that his partner is pregnant with a baby girl. “We were struggling. The staff, my teammates, players – everyone was struggling the last few games, you know. So if we are winning, we are winning together. If we are losing, we're losing together. So I said so many times, we just need one game like that and after, the confidence and mentality will be back for sure.”

Messi, Miami meet their match

Most strikingly, there was little in the way of bunkering or reactivity from ATL. The visitors bossed the expected-goals category to the tune of 3.4-0.7 and could’ve scored even more, with Miami looking slow and rickety defensively, particularly in transition.

Pineda shifted to a 3-4-3 formation for this visit to Chase Stadium in hopes of disrupting the Herons’ spine of Sergio Busquets, Leo Messi and Luis Suárez. It paid dividends, thanks in no small part to the excellent work of central midfielders Dax McCarty and Tristan Muyumba, and striker Jamal Thiare – who started up top with Giorgos Giakoumakis in a reserve role as he nurses a hamstring issue – dropping deep to harass Busquets’ orchestration.

“Understanding that Messi and Suárez were going to be on top, I wanted to have always a 3-v-2 against them,” explained Pineda. “Because I wanted to be protected in the middle of the field in transition moments, or when they were on the ball. We just clogged the middle, we didn't allow Messi, Suárez to have a lot of freedom there. But I think the players did well, both out of possession, in possession, but also in transition.

“We said, their center backs are good and especially long balls and all that, but the ones that are going to hurt you are Busquets, Messi in the pockets … Dax and Tristan were outstanding in terms of communicating, passing lanes and blocking their passes.”

Said Lobjanidze of the tactical adjustment: “It was perfect for this game.”

Pineda's patience pays off

Atlanta’s combination of poor results and underwhelming performances, particularly a galling streak of four consecutive home losses, has stoked fan discontent and turned up the heat on Pineda. The Mexican manager had preached patience and persistence throughout, and did so again after this win, even taking care to hail the substantial cadre of traveling supporters in Fort Lauderdale.

“It was a massive, massive performance,” said Pineda, “but we've been playing good. We’ve been playing, maybe not at the same caliber, but something close to this, and we didn't get many results. Today we did very well in terms of being clinical in key moments, and I think the players deserved every single part of those three points.

“It's tough when you are outplaying certain opponents and creating better expected goals than the opponents, but we didn't get the three points, and you can lose your confidence at some point. So for me it was a big, big sign of great mentality for the team. But it's also reward for the fans, because one thing I really appreciated today was the corner, the back of the goal, it was completely filled by our fans that traveled here trying to motivate our players, and that was amazing.”

Charlotte FC and their stingy defense are likely to present a much different challenge from wide-open IMCF when they visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday (4:45 pm ET | Apple TV - Free, FOX). Yet Pineda pointed to his squad’s improving health and the infusion of quality and depth it brings, adding he thought their committed mentality was more influential than any tactical tweaks.

“This can be a good turning point, but, we still have nothing. We're still very, very low in the standings,” he said. “I hope this is the beginning for a good stride of games where we have good results, but we have to put the same amount of energy, the same amount of commitment and the same amount of football that we did today.”

Miami, meanwhile, saw a 10-game unbeaten run shudder to a halt with the looming departure of Messi and several other key contributors on international duty. For coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the night’s only redeeming feature was the surprise loss of their Supporters’ Shield rivals FC Cincinnati at home to Nashville SC.

“The only positive thing about the night is that Cincinnati lost. There's nothing positive here,” said the Argentine in Spanish after losing to his former club. “We were unrecognizable. A lot of passing errors and disorganized in recovery. We're going to work to improve that. Today served as a learning experience, and credit to the adversary."