It’s been another two-match week at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground in Atlanta, typical of the past month for Atlanta United. With the players still stretching out the effects of Wednesday night’s win over Minnesota United, head coach Frank de Boer was already looking ahead to the next opponent.
“You can’t do that much in the short period of time,” he told reporters this week.We had a meeting this morning and talked about Chicago Fire, what their strengths and weaknesses are like we normally do. For us it’s more about getting the mentality right, get them prepared for this game. Luckily for us, Chicago has the same problem, and they have been traveling. Maybe they are even more tired. It’s not ideal preparation, but that’s how it goes in a stretch like this. We have to be prepared, especially mentally, for this game.”
De Boer called the Fire one of the most attacking teams in MLS, singling out “impressive players” like Nico Gaitán, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexander Katai for praise.
“If you are not 100% focused, not prepared to put them under pressure, they will outplay you. I think it’s a tough opponent.”
The match is the final challenge in a grueling stretch for the club, an eight-match 27-day stretch that Darlington Nagbe called one of the toughest stretches of his MLS career. With a 25-day break in league play beginning on Sunday, it’s a natural time in the schedule to regroup. So the players are still focused fully on finishing the stretch on a high.
“Yeah, obviously we are all focused on [Saturday],” Julian Gressel said Friday. “We aren’t looking back too much yet. If we get a result with a win tomorrow we can really pleased with this stretch. We had some really long trips, a good spell to start, dug ourselves out of a little hole and now we are hoping to finish it off tomorrow.”
“The most important thing is you want to go with a good feeling to the third phase of the competition,” De Boer added. “Hopefully we will do that. It also depends how you play against Chicago Fire. If you draw, and were the better team, it could be a good feeling, but when you have a bad result, and play bad, that’s not the best feeling to go into this international break.”
The Five Stripes know if they can play at their best level they can beat any team in Major League Soccer. They just have to maintain the focus for one more match to set themselves up for a second-half run coming out of the international break.
“Obviously, we have one more 90 minutes, 95 minutes whatever it takes, and get one more win,” Julian Gressel said. “Then we have all earned the rest.”