Training Notebook: The best atmosphere to play 


Atlanta United is all set to host the club’s first match at home of the 2024 MLS regular season on Saturday, March 9. To get ready for the match, and to get a feel for new turf installed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the team held its training session Thursday morning in downtown Atlanta. In the 30 minutes open to media, we saw the team complete a lively session of Rondos in the cavernous venue that just two days from now will be filled with our loudest and rowdiest supporters.

Head coach Gonzalo Pineda and Brooks Lennon met with the media following training. Here are a few things to come out of their availability:

Capitalizing on an early bye week

Atlanta United is ready to roll after what’s been a start-stop beginning the first two weeks of 2024. Last weekend, the team had an early bye week following a demanding task for the first match of the regular season: a 1-0 loss to the defending MLS Cup Champion Columbus Crew on February 24.

Now, Atlanta is back to the rhythm of a matchweek, this time preparing to play at home. The team used the week off for additional preparation, both physically and mentally.

“We focused on us and what we can do to improve certain positions for different actions and things that we might see in the game against New England, so we trained on that,” Lennon said.

Training Photos: Week of March 4

Saturday’s opponent is another Eastern Conference club, New England Revolution. The Revs are winless so far in MLS play, falling to D.C. United and Toronto FC, but are coming off an impressive 4-0 win midweek over LD Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League behind a brace from Tomás Chancalay.

A New England player Atlanta United will need to keep an eye on is Carles Gil. The veteran captain always plays well against Atlanta United. (He scored a brace in the 3-3 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year.) And, as of Thursday morning, New England announced Gil has re-signed a long-term contract extension with the club guaranteed through 2026.

“He’s obviously a very dangerous player for them and in the league in general, he’s a world-class player,” Lennon said. “The focus is going to be heavy on him, especially when he’s floating in areas. He’s a player who likes to go wherever he wants, so we need to make sure we have eyes on him at all times because he’s done very well against us.”

The early bye week also benefited Atlanta United in terms of getting healthy. Players unavailable for selection in Columbus due to injury included Edwin Mosquera and Jamal Thiaré. Both players were seen out at training on Thursday, giving their head coach a full roster for Saturday’s match.

“We’ll try our best to pick the best lineup possible and to have them sharp,” Pineda said. “Now, that we have everyone available, for us the emphasis everyone is sharp, everyone is confident, so today and tomorrow we will be focused on that.”

Home opener for both returning players and new faces

Several members of the club have been part of an Atlanta United home opener before in their careers. For veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan, the player with the most appearances in club history, Saturday will mark his seventh home opener with Atlanta United.

Two others who have felt the energy of a full-venue home opener were today’s speakers at media. For Lennon, this will be his fifth home opener with the club, since joining Atlanta United from Real Salt Lake prior to the 2020 season. Additionally, this is the third home opener for Pineda, the most of any head coach in the club’s history.

“Excited, motivated, blessed by the opportunity to be here for this long,” Pineda said. “I will say we did a responsibility of trying to get a very successful year for the club. My only focus is how I can affect and motivate and put the players in the best [position] so they can produce more victories this year, and hopefully we can be in a good position for the playoffs.”

“It’s a real honor,” Lennon said. “I just hit 200 MLS appearances, and I’m proud of that accomplishment, but I want 200 more and to continue representing the club in the right way with leadership, work rate, everything I feel I give to the organization.”

“I think everyone knows that I always give everything that I possibly have for the team in every minute,” Lennon continued. “I’m just looking to continue to do that, keep my head, and hopefully good things happen this year with individual accomplishments but also with our team accomplishments. I want this year, my fifth season, to be the year I lift a trophy with Atlanta.”

While Pineda and Lennon offer experience in exciting atmospheres in home openers, this will be the first home match for several players new to wearing the Five Stripes. If they make the starting XI again, like they did in Columbus, this will mean the home debuts for Stian Gregersen, Derrick Williams and Bartosz Slisz.

When asked about playing his first match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Slisz said on Tuesday that he’s heard great things about the venue and that he hopes his new team can secure a win. For many players like Slisz upon their arrival to Atlanta, the stadium experience is one of their first callouts as a reason for joining the club.

“It’s very similar to Europe in that way, in how we’re able to create a home environment,” Lennon said. “It’s a great way to get players interested in Atlanta United, and we’ve been able to pull some serious talent. It’s really fun for me because I’ve played here for so long to be able to explain to these guys how exciting it is.”

For these players, Saturday is the introduction to how truly special, and electric, a home match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium can be.

“We’re excited for this year, we’re really, really stoked for Saturday night,” Lennon said. “I think it’s going to be fun for a lot of the new guys to play at the Benz in front of however many people – 60, 70,000 people – it’s just the best atmosphere to play in front of.”

Building culture on and off the pitch

Atlanta United enters Saturday’s contest looking for not just the first result of the season but also the team’s first goal. The team was shutout in the regular season opener, conceding once in a tight contest in Columbus.

As a team that finished last season second in the league in goals scored with 66, trailing only Columbus Crew with 67, Atlanta United will be on the hunt Saturday for goals. They are set on continuing the success they found attacking late last season when, in the last two months playing at home, Atlanta United scored 19 goals and outscored opponents 19-8.

“We have quality players and they’re starting to know each other a little bit better as well,” Pineda said. “We had a little spell with 10 games where we were pretty much the same, minus a couple reinforcements at center back and center mid, but pretty much the same team attacking. We expect that cohesion to continue.”

Thiago Almada (left), Giorgos Giakoumakis (center), Jamal Thiaré

As for who could score that first goal of 2024 for Atlanta United, there are many possibilities: the team’s leading scorer last season, Giorgos Giakoumakis, who is well-rested coming off his first full offseason and preseason with the club. It could be the World Cup winner who broke the club’s single-season assist record last year in Thiago Almada. Maybe it’ll be one of the speedy wingers, Saba Lobjanidze or Xande Silva, who played a huge part in Atlanta United’s attacking success late in 2023.

Whoever scores Saturday, it will be a testament of a group with what Lennon described as "good vibes in the locker room." A common thread through Pineda and Lennon’s media availabilities was the good culture the group started to build in preseason and is continuing to come together. Creating close bonds and a positive culture off the field is what will hopefully result in goals, and wins, as a team on the pitch.

“You see the best organizations in the world, the teams that win title after title, you think of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots, the Lakers, all these organizations, the reason these teams are so successful is because of the bond in the locker room and the culture they create,” Lennon said. “That’s something we’ve really tried to instill in the new guys coming in this year is creating that really strong bond with each other so that when we’re out in the field, we’re playing as one.”

The 2024 home opener is here!

The 2024 home opener is here!

The new season is here and Atlanta United's home opener is on March 9. Secure your seat and join us at Mercedes-Benz Stadium!

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