Matchday in the A, vital MLS matches for playoff positioning: Starting Lineup, September 23
by Jason Longshore
1- Big game to finish off the week for Atlanta United tonight at the Benz as CF Montreal comes to town. The 5 Stripes are in 6th place in the East, 2 points out of 3rd place but teams around them have games in hand. Atlanta will have next weekend off so points are a must tonight. Montreal is currently in the first wild card spot, 3 points ahead of NYCFC who is on the outside looking in. While the playoffs are all but assured for Atlanta, a win clinches their playoff future. A draw might also be enough depending on other results. For Atlanta, getting into the top 4 is the goal because of how important home field advantage can be in the opening best-of-3 series.
2- How can Atlanta get that done? A fast start is key, bringing the crowd into it and providing an important energy boost as the legs will be heavy playing just a few days after the DC trip. Ball movement to open up spaces in Montreal's defensive structure is key, they often look more like a line of 5 defensively on the road versus their home field alignment. Immediate pressure on the ball after turnovers and restarts is more important than usual against Montreal because they want to get into the attacking half as quickly as possible. With two forwards up top, Atlanta's backline doesn't want to deal with constant direct play. Pressure can deter that, but keeping security of the ball is the best way to deal with it.
Spoiler alert for my matchup to watch on our 92.9 The Game radio broadcast, I think Atlanta can turn this game with their fullbacks (likely Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley) against Montreal's wing backs. Hernan Losada likes to play attack-minded players in those roles and when you make them defend deeper, the system can fall apart a bit.
3- One of the big games in MLS this weekend is in DC as the Red Bulls come to town. The visitors have a 13-year streak of reaching the playoffs in jeopardy as they need a win to pull within two points of DC for the final wild card spot. This is the oldest rivalry in MLS (not including those that started in other leagues, settle down Cascadia) and it rarely has more on the line than this year.
4- Talles Magno scored his first goal for NYC since April in their big midweek win. They host Toronto tonight and can take advantage of Montreal or DC not picking up maximum points tonight.
5- Really tough test for Charlotte tonight in Cincinnati. The visitors have tied 9 of their last 11 games. In 3 of their last 4 games, Charlotte has conceded the equalizer in the 88th minute or later. 2 of the equalizers were from the penalty spot in stoppage time. The run has kept Charlotte in the playoff race, but has also been maddening because it feels like with just a little more resolve, they could be in a playoff spot right now.
6- News out of Cincinnati yesterday, Luciano Acosta has signed a new contract extension through 2026 with an option for 2027. The 29-year old is having a monster season and is the likely MVP with 14 goals and 11 assists. When he arrived in Cincinnati, they were coming off a horrific start to their MLS existence. Acosta was the first major step in changing that. Now, he'll be a cornerstone for a few more years. Right now, Cincinnati has a huge cushion in the Supporters' Shield race and has to be considered a favorite for MLS Cup.
7- Manchester United has lost three straight matches in all competitions and will travel to Burnley this afternoon. The Red Devils have conceded a shocking ten goals in those three losses, last year the team led the Premier League in clean sheets. Andre Onana made a big mistake that started the bad day in Munich, he replaced David De Gea this season in goal. Injuries have been an issue, but Erik ten Hag is hoping to get Raphael Varane, Mason Mount, Sofyan Amrabat and Harry Maguire back into consideration today.
8- The current women's world champions Spain ended a tumultuous week with a win over the (somehow) top ranked team in the world Sweden in the UEFA Nations League 3-2. There were concerns about fielding a team for the match earlier in the week, but significant progress was made in the discussions between the players and the federation in the fight for progress. The back-and-forth match was decided by Mariona Caldentey from the penalty spot deep in second half stoppage time.
9- The 133rd edition of the Clásico Regio, between Tigres and Monterrey, takes place this weekend at the Estadio Universitario. Tigres are one point ahead of Rayados in the Liga MX table right now, they'll host the match this weekend, and they'll be much closer to full strength than their rivals. Monterrey come into tonight's match without Germán Berterame (broken foot from Leagues Cup), Rodrigo Aguirre (missed Leagues Cup, setback in recovery from thigh problem), Rogelio Funes Mori (could be back from ankle injury to be on the bench), and Alí Ávila (suspended due to red card last time out).
10- On this day in 2007, the Atlanta Silverbacks advanced to the USL 1st Division final after defeating the Portland Timbers on penalties on the road. Ryan McIntosh saved Lawrence Olum's attempt to clinch the win and put a cap on an outstanding series and season for the goalkeeper. He had three saves in extra time to keep Atlanta alive.
11- Outkast released their double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on this day in 2003. It was named Album of the Year at the next Grammy Awards. I'll let y'all go listen to the monster hits from the record and I'll throw this one at you for today's Song of the Day. It's one of the few collaborative songs on the record from Andre 3000 & Big Boi as the concept was originally two completely solo albums.