Atlanta United’s training session on Friday had a different look to it. Quite literally.
The team held training at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta on Friday morning, placing the team in its matchday environment to prep for a big meeting against Philadelphia Union on Saturday. Media members occupied the east end of the pitch, right in front of the Gulch. On the other side of the pitch, position players went through warm-ups and short sprints. Then, they completed dribbling and passing drills before moving onto Rondos. Miles Robinson, the center back who has been out this season with a ruptured Achilles, was on the sideline going through some rehab exercises.
It looked very much like matchday, with the stadium lights bright, the retractable roof closed overhead and the halo board lit up, except there was one big thing missing: the 17s. The empty stadium seats looked eager to be filled, and it was strange to be right in front of the supporters section and not hear the drums and chants. The ball popped off the post louder than on match days, and we could easily hear goalkeeper coach Liam Curran’s voice as he took Raúl Gudiño and Rocco Ríos Novo through their drills.
The excitement that Atlanta United matchday brings is unparalleled, it’s what makes our club fun, spirited and dynamic. With Atlanta United’s playoff hopes on the line tomorrow against the Eastern Conference leaders and Supporters Shield contenders, we hope every seat at the stadium on Saturday is filled with the loud, rowdy and proud.
"We're in front of our fans, and I think the energy and the level of excitement that the fans bring to the stadium is that connection that we saw in the last game at home against Toronto," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "Those types of connections, we're looking for something similar tomorrow. So I hope that the fans are energetic, that we are energetic and we have this vibe in the stadium with a good atmosphere so we can be even better in these moments."
Here are some more insights and observations from the Children’s Healthcare of – I mean, Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Extra Touches At Mercedes-Benz Stadium
It’s a double match week for Atlanta United, and the team has an especially quick turnaround. Atlanta United was just on the road Wednesday night in a 1-0 win over Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. Three days later, Atlanta United has a huge match at home. So, today’s session was light, the point being to keep legs fresh and get the guys some extra touches.
“We decided it was good to get a couple of touches whenever possible on the field. In our last game against Toronto FC, we did the same. We trained here the day before,” Pineda said.
With his explanation comes perhaps some undertones of superstition – and with good reason. Last time Atlanta United played a match at home, they scored four second-half goals to beat Toronto FC 4-2. That positive momentum carried into the team’s away match against Orlando City – the first back-to-back wins for the club this season.
With the club sharing the stadium with the Atlanta Falcons, whose season kicked off last weekend, it’s not always possible to get a session in at the stadium the day before a home match, but it worked out this week for the 5-Stripes.
“I feel like the players feel more comfortable when you do tactics here in the 11v11,” Pineda said. “Even though today was more of a walkthrough, they feel the spaces better, they feel more comfortable, I will say. We can do that. At times, we cannot, obviously, but whenever we have the chance, we can do it.”
Atlanta vs. Everybody
On the halo board at the stadium, above the players on the field, were three words in Atlanta United gold:
ATLANTA vs. EVERYBODY
Pineda said this after the 1-0 win over Orlando City, and it seems that the club has taken on this mentality and using it as a mantra moving forward. The saying suggests that Atlanta United has a chip on its shoulder, that there’s something to prove with only three matches remaining in its regular season.
Atlanta United is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time this season. Collecting six points has helped the team climb up the standings, kept their playoff hopes alive and given the club a sense of belief. With Atlanta United sitting two points off the playoff line, the all-or-nothing mentality is motivating the team.
“We’ve been in our own heads all year long because each player and especially us as a club, we have expectations and we want to deliver on the goals we set out to have at the beginning of the year,” midfielder Amar Sejdić said. Of course, we’re not in the best position that we would like to be in with three games. Nonetheless, we have back-to-back wins and we do still have an opportunity to make the playoffs. It’s going to be a tight race, so might as well give it everything we got and finish out the year strong and don’t care what anybody says and play together as a team and get this winning culture.”
Thiago Almada and the September International FIFA Window
Thiago Almada is having a stellar week. The midfielder has scored in back-to-back games, netting go-ahead goals for Atlanta United both times. His consecutive goals also put him on the MLS Team of the Week two straight times on September 12 and September 15. On Friday, he topped the league’s list of players 26 and under with the highest potential for eMLS FIFA ratings (Santiago Sosa and Edwin Mosquera also cracked the top 10.)
Almada’s play for the 5-Stripes has also been getting international. As of Thursday morning, the 21-year-old was officially called up to the Argentina men’s national team for September friendlies against Honduras and Jamaica. There, Almada will get a chance to represent Atlanta Untied and display his skills to a global audience.
“First, I’m very happy that one of my teammates is doing really well, and second because him and I have established a good relationship, so I’m very happy for him,” midfielder Santiago Sosa said on Tuesday. “He has a spectacular opportunity to go play with the national team, so I’m really excited for him. It gives me goosebumps talking about it. He’s having an incredible season and it’s a great opportunity for him.
Almada is just the second Argentine from MLS to earn a call up to the national team. Pity Martinez, also with Atlanta United, was the first back in 2019.
Several other members of Atlanta United were called up to their national teams for the upcoming FIFA window. Defender Caleb Wiley was called up to the U.S. U-20 national team. Three members of Atlanta United 2 have been called up as well. Midfielder Ajani Fortune (Trinidad and Tobago), goalkeeper Vicente Reyes (Chile U-20s) and midfielder Jonny Villal (Mexico U-18s).