Atlanta United are back in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
After missing out on the postseason with an 11th-place finish in 2022, the Five Stripes sought a win on Saturday night against visiting CF Montréal to clinch their place for 2023. They got just that in the form of a dominant 4-1 performance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Despite the positive result, Atlanta head coach Gonzalo Pineda knows there's plenty more for his team yet to achieve, including a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference. They ended the night in fifth place, and the two teams ahead of them in the standings – fourth-place Philadelphia Union and third-place Columbus Crew – are up next on the schedule. Both teams also have matches in hand.
"This is not even close to the main goals we have for this year ... we have too many things to achieve this year, and this is just the beginning," Pineda said after the match.
Golden Boot hopeful
Giorgos Giakoumakis had a hand in Atlanta United's win on Saturday – his nifty chip of Montréal goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois in the 46th minute not only staked Atlanta a 3-1 advantage, but it gave him 15 goals on the season. That places the Greece international in a three-way tie with FC Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta and Nashville SC's Hany Mukhtar for the 2023 MLS Golden Boot lead presented by Audi lead.
Atlanta's already had one Golden Boot winner – Josef Martínez – in their previous six seasons of existence, and if they have their way, Giakoumakis will become a second.
"When you have a '9' that is a huge focal point, and somebody that can dominate center halves, and get in the box, and be a menace, and score in many different ways, it causes problems for the opposition, and he does that for 90-plus minutes week in, week out," goalkeeper and captain Brad Guzan told MLS 360 after the match.
"We want to reward him for that hard work. We want to reward him for those battles, and when we're able to get him the ball and get him goals, that's only going to improve his confidence, but also, hopefully, help him get him closer to that Golden Boot."
Job's not finished
A win at Philadelphia on October 4 (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) would go a long way in helping Atlanta move into the top four of the Eastern Conference standings and claim home-field advantage in Round One of the playoffs.
Pineda, while praising the achievement of his players and staff to claim a postseason berth with three matches to spare, has Atlanta aiming higher, considering they missed out on the playoffs a season ago.
"It's very meaningful, of course. Thirty-one games and we got it, especially after last year we didn't achieve that. For me, for Atlanta, [playoffs] should be the minimum requirement of the season," Pineda said. "We barely [have started] to see what we can do, so many things to come, and this is a good goal, but there are many more to come."
Added Guzan in the locker room: "Now, we've got to try and finish as high as we can. We know that home-field advantage is huge for us. So we want to try to finish in those top spots to be able to have that advantage."