Atlanta (9-6-2, 29 points) struggled to break down Montreal’s compact defense through the first half-hour. The Impact were content to sit deep and look for opportunities against the run of play, following the game plan of most teams visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In the 33rd minute, they nearly drew blood. Mathieu Choinière raced down the right wing and received a cross at the top of Altanta’s penalty area, but his uncontested shot was wide.
Two minutes later, Meram put the Five Stripes in front. He collected a pass from Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez near the touchline, cut inside and launched a curling shot from 25 yards past Evan Bush and inside the far post. Martínez picked up the assist, but the goal really was a solo effort by Meram.
“He has that talent, he has that ability,” Jeff Larentowicz said of Meram’s wonder goal. “He’s a guy that expects a lot of himself, so I think he’s been a little disappointed lately.
“We were actually on the bus to go to our walk-around [before the game], and I said, ‘Tonight, you’re going to cut in and shoot. You’ve got to do it.’ I told him at halftime, I said, ‘I want half your goal bonus.'”
Montreal (9-8-3, 30 points) should have leveled on a set piece in first-half stoppage time. Harry Novillo sent a good free kick into the Atlanta area. Without a touch, the ball bounced and found Saphir Taïder at the back post, but Taïder headed over Brad Guzan’s open goal from point-blank range.
The Impact made the most of a second chance shortly after halftime. Off a corner in the 50th minute, Novillo hit a stinging shot from the top of the area. The ball was going wide, but it pinged off Zakaria Diallo and into the net. Diallo, who was held onside by two Atlanta defenders, was credited with the goal. Novillo tallied the assist.
Jun 29, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer claps as he leads his team on to the field prior to the game against Montreal Impact at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Following Montreal’s goal, the game opened up as both teams pushed for a winner. There were decent chances at both ends, but neither goalkeeper faced a significant test until the 83rd minute.
Meram struck again, this time closer to goal. With the ball loose off an Atlanta corner, he finished from two yards.
Larentowicz came on to shore up the Five Stripes’ defensive midfield, and Meram exited to a standing ovation four minutes after scoring the winner.
Florentin Pogba, with three prior league appearances at centerback this season, made a surprise start at left back for Atlanta. Pogba played a few good passes and unlocked Montreal’s defense with a chipped ball to Meram in the fourth minute (Julian Gressel’s shot off a Meram cross went wide). On Choinière’s first-half chance, it was Pogba who was late tracking back. Overall, the Guinea international had an even performance. He showed fatigue as the second half wore on and exited for Brek Shea in the 83rd minute.
“I thought he was great,” Guzan said in the locker room. “Again, probably somebody that’s not a natural left back. His biggest attribute is probably his strength, and you saw that today. I think Bush tried to play his first few long balls, and [Pogba] was always going to win those. Not his normal position, but for sure came in and did an absolute job for us, and I couldn’t be more pleased for him.”
In addition to his assist, Martínez took three shots, but failed to hit the target. He subbed off for Dion Pereira in the 68th minute. Manager Frank de Boer praised Martínez’s play in the first half and credited the Argentine for his role in Meram’s first goal. But, de Boer said Martínez’s quality dropped after halftime.
“In the second half, especially I think around the 65th minute, he was making too many mistakes, and then it’s a danger for the team at that moment,” de Boer said. “So, then it’s my choice to make a decision.
“Overall against Toronto, I think he played one of his best games, and now I think he started quite well, only he has to continue that, of course. When it’s a danger to the team, I have to take any player out who is a danger for the team at that moment. He doesn’t do it on purpose, but he has to realize. Maybe it was short notice that we play again, so maybe he was tired, but he has to know where [he can take risks on the ball]. Do we have too many men in front of the ball? Then, you cannot lose the ball. He has to understand that better, but I still believe in him, but he has to improve in that, that’s for sure.”