Sometimes all it takes is one moment to turn your season around.
Atlanta United may have received that spark in the 94th minute of their Saturday home match against Seattle Sounders FC, as defender Andrew Gutman unleashed a golazo from 25 yards out to seal a 2-1 victory and stun this year’s Concacaf Champions League winners.
Through a bit of brilliance fans might expect from any of Atlanta’s high-priced stars, the Eastern Conference club heads into the MLS All-Star Game break within striking distance of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line. They're in 12th place, though just two points beneath the qualification field (7W-9L-7D record).
The win was Atlanta’s second in their last nine games, or third in their last 13 games if the aperture gets opened up further. That underscores the troubles their injury-riddled group has encountered in 2022, as the 2018 MLS Cup champions flirt with a second postseason absence in the last three years.
They have 11 games left in their campaign and aren’t yet in the East’s top-seven safety zone, but belief is surging through head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s locker room.
“It has been a tough year for this team with everything that has gone on, injuries and other stuff,” Gutman said, having subbed on in the 81st minute upon recovering from a long-term quad injury. “Gonzalo and his staff are an amazing staff and I am just so happy that we could get them three points and hopefully we can get on a roll and make the playoffs.”
Asked about the gravity of the result, Pineda said it’s “one of the better” wins since he became head coach of the Five Stripes, formally taking the sidelines in late August of the 2021 campaign. And the Mexican manager said he will “always remember” Gutman’s goal given its significance amid a tough year.
“At some point, we said: ‘I don’t care how, but today we need the three points. I don’t care if we dominate possession great. If we score a goal in the last minute, let’s do it,’” Pineda said after a game that acted as Newcastle-bound club president Darren Eales' send-off. “Then Andrew gives us that and it was just a perfect ending for my messaging before the game.”
Seattle have now lost 10 one-goal games during the 2022 season, while Atlanta are tied for the league lead in goals scored (10) after the 80th minute this year. That sticktoitiveness drew admiration from Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, whose staff included Pineda as an assistant before he jettisoned for life at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“What I do give Gonzo a lot of credit for is, look his season hasn't been great, it's been tough,” Schmetzer said postgame. “He's got a ton of injuries, but I give him a ton of credit for making sure that his team didn't quit.”
Next Saturday, Atlanta will look to earn consecutive wins for the first time this year when visiting FC Cincinnati (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+). They, in large part, have Gutman to thank for that possibility.
“I was joking with Andrew, telling him he closed his eyes and hit it,” said center back Alan Franco. “But I know Andrew can hit the ball well. I wasn’t expecting him to score a golazo, but it’s good for us and he scored the goal to give us the victory and he deserved it.”