Atlanta United hit the training pitch at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Friday a little later than usual. The team began training one hour later than their start time has been all summer, moving from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., a signal of both the time of year in Atlanta and the time in Atlanta United’s season.
Just four matches remain in the MLS regular season for Atlanta United, which means there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: the Eastern Conference table. Atlanta United has yet to clinch but is in the middle of a double matchweek that could help its cause. The 5-Stripes are coming off a midweek road trip to the nation’s capital, playing D.C. United to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday and earning one point in the table on the road. On Saturday, the team will play their third game in eight days before getting a brief break from competitive play.
On Friday, the team started off with some casual juggling exercises and light running to warm up and get loose. Then, the teams broke up into two groups. One set of field players completed diamond passing drills while the other, the starters in D.C., went through extensive stretching. Finally, the players that remained were divided into four teams with each assigned a different quadrant marked on the pitch. The players passed the ball from one square to another without it touching the ground, which created a good bit of friendly competition (and banter) in the final parts of practice.
During this time, goalkeeper Liam Curran took the keepers through defending corner kicks and set pieces, although there was a notable voice missing from the bunch. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan was absent from training Friday. Head coach Gonzalo Pineda confirmed during his session with media that his captain was feeling under the weather but they are optimistic about Guzan’s availability for Saturday.
Here are a few more storylines to around the Training Ground on Friday before the home match against CF Montréal:
The mindset of a playoff berth
Atlanta United was on the verge of clinching a playoff spot Wednesday night. However, Philadelphia Union pulled out a result, a 2-2 draw with Charlotte FC, which kept Atlanta United on the outside looking in – for the moment. Although the results didn’t quite go Atlanta United’s way midweek, the team has a chance to control their own destiny And the formula for Saturday against CF Montréal is simple: win and in.
So far, four teams in the Eastern Conference have clinched a spot in the postseason: FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC, Columbus Crew and Philadelphia Union. Both Atlanta United and their opponent Saturday, CF Montréal, are currently above the playoff line entering the match. Atlanta United sits in sixth place with 46 points. CF Montréal is two spots below then in eighth with 37 points in the table. The situation and the stakes are something Atlanta United is fully aware of.
“[The players] know,” Pineda said. “They know the importance of tomorrow’s match… you can feel like that might be coming soon, clinching playoffs. I hope we can do it this weekend. But after that, of course, we want to really pursue the main goal for the regular season, being top four, we need those three points.”
“We’re aware,” midfielder Matheus Rossetto echoed. “But the most important thing tomorrow is to try to get three points. And then, after that, whether we’re in the playoffs or not, we’ll see. But right now, we’re treating this game like a final and our focus is to get three points.”
Right now, the team is striving for more. Pineda said that the team was disappointed to only earn one point on the road at Audi Field Wednesday. It’s the second time in a few matches that Atlanta United has led only to concede to drop a winning result. The 5-Stripes led FC Dallas 2-1 before Dallas found the equalizer in the 62nd minute. Atlanta also led FC Cincinnati 1-0 before conceding twice in the second half.
“We were frustrated with dropping points against Dallas when we were winning that game and controlling that game. And the same thing against D.C.,” Rossetto said. “But all the players believe in what we’re doing. We’re just focused on this next game and the mentality is good.”
The Matheus Rossetto-Tristan Muyumba Connection
The current run of form for Atlanta United has been good. Since Leagues Cup, the team has only dropped one result, which came against the Supporters' Shield favorites, FC Cincinnati, a match that Atlanta United was actually winning before conceding twice in the second half. In five of their last six matches, Atlanta United has earned a result.
The club’s signings during the summer transfer window have proved to be significant contributors to this strong stretch. For Rossetto, he’s been largely impacted by Tristan Muyumba, the midfielder from France who joined the squad from French Ligue 2 side EA Guingamp through the 2027 season.
“I think we know that Tristan is a great player, and he’s helped me and also other players around us, Thiago [Almada], Xande [Silva], and other guys on the team,” Rossetto said. “He’s a player I feel very comfortable playing with. He’s someone who’s able to get involved in the attack very easily and he also helps defensively.”
Pairing with a player of Muyumba’s caliber has opened up more opportunities on the pitch for Rossetto. The midfielder from Brazil finds himself leaning more into the attack. But he also takes pride in making defensive stops, which he did on the September 16 match against Inter Miami. Both midfielders are attack-minded, who can also drop back and help defensively, which has led to more team goals for Atlanta United.
“Honestly, I don’t know how the adaptation has gone so quickly,” Rossetto said. “It’s just something that’s natural. Playing with him it seems like we’ve been playing together three or four seasons.”
Atlanta United’s annual Unite & Conquer Cancer Match
The next match marks a big game for the team, but it’s also an important date for the club. On Saturday, Atlanta United will hold its inaugural Unite & Conquer Cancer match that honors pediatric cancer fighters, their families, and the nurses and doctors who treat and support them.
Unite & Conquer Cancer means a lot at Atlanta United. The community relations team here at the club devotes time throughout the year toward the campaign, hosting pediatric cancer fighters at the Training Ground and organizing VIP experiences that connect the Owen Klemme Conquer Kids with players on and off the pitch.
For Saturday’s match, two very special guests will serve roles in the pre-match festivities. Hanna Clegg, a nine-year-old battling leukemia who designed this year’s Unite & Conquer Cancer Scarf, will serve as honorary captain. Dakota Southerland, a 13-year-old pediatric cancer fighter, will fire up the crowd as the Golden Spike hitter.
Join us Saturday for our annual Unite & Conquer Cancer match. And purchase your scarf at the Atlanta United Team Store!
The pediatric cancer fighter is this year's scarf designer for Unite & Conquer Cancer. She will also have the opportunity to serve as the Honorary Captain at the annual Unite & Conquer Cancer match on September 23.