When you’re fighting at the top of the table, every match is important. But combine a league road trip with a Cup final coming up in just a few days time, it’s another big few days in Atlanta United’s season. But Head Coach Frank de Boer won’t be thinking about Tuesday when he picks his roster for Friday night’s match against Orlando.
“A short turnaround is when you have two days,” he told reporters this week. “Three days gives us a breath of air. So we are going to have a strong team.”
So while Tuesday’s Cup final is a huge point in Atlanta United’s season, the focus this week was squarely on Orlando. The top of the East is tight enough, so motivation is already there. But there’s a little extra when these two teams face off.
“I think it’s motivation for us to play at Orlando’s stadium because it’s a rivalry game,” Ezequiel Barco told reporters, through a translator. “We’re going there to look for a result because we need the points to stay at the top and achieve what we want.”
“We approach it in a way that we know it’s going to be a tough game,” added Brad Guzan. “They’re fighting for their lives, trying to pick up points. We’re currently in a good spot, but as we all know, when things are going well and you’re playing well, it’s very easy for things to change.”
The Five Stripes are in red-hot form with five straight wins in all competitions, including a strong 2-0 win at Providence Park against the perennial Western Conference powers Portland Timbers. But just as it was important not to get down when form wasn’t good, the players say it’s crucial to not get too high on individual results either.
“You have to stay even-keeled,” Guzan said. “Forget the fact that it was the first road win in a while, it’s a massive win because it’s a tough place to play… You go out there with a mission to try and get a result. When you play the way we did, score the goals that we did, it’s a satisfying feeling getting back on the plane to come back home with three points.”
While De Boer said he does expect to field a strong team on Friday, Atlanta United players know whoever gets the call will be ready, thanks to perhaps the deepest roster in the league.
“We know we’ve created a roster from top to bottom, a squad that allows some flexibility without a dip in quality,” Guzan said. “When you have that, it creates problems for other teams. They look at our team and think we can come at them a few different ways.”
And the players emphasized that they are only now just hitting their stride –– and that once the final touch gets sharper, it will only get better.
“We’re creating a lot of chances on goal,” Barco said. “I think we’re playing well out of the back and finding spaces in the midfield and we can hurt teams with players like Pity and Josef who are doing things very well. We just have to be sharper at the time of finishing plays which is what we’re missing.”
Rest assured: this team is confident no matter where they play. But with the second match in Orlando in a month, they will be ready for this match once again.
“We’ve played down there enough now,” Guzan said. It’s their home stadium so they’re comfortable. Whoever has an advantage, you try to impose yourself on the game to give yourself the best chance to get three points.”
The match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, so if you couldn’t make the trip, make sure to tune in from Atlanta. Click here for all the details on broadcast, radio and watch parties to watch with your fellow 17s.