The question around the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Thursday was a clear and expected one.
What’s the mood of the team?
With the 2-1 loss to New England Revolution last weekend, the team now knows their fate. There will be no postseason for Atlanta United, no run at the 2022 MLS Cup, no late-season heroics to climb above the playoff line and surprise the Eastern Conference at the last second. It’s a disappointing outcome for a team that overcame a lot of adversity and showed promise with back-to-back wins before the September international break.
“Of course, we’re disappointed by last week’s result and we wanted to be in playoff contention,” midfielder Amar Sejdić said. “But nonetheless, coming out into this last week, I think it’s an opportunity for all the guys to finish out the season on a strong note, a positive note and go into the offseason in a good mood and look forward to next year. So it’s a good way to close it off.”
But Atlanta United’s season isn’t over, and the club has the chance to finish out the 2022 season on a high note with a win at home against a quality opponent.
Going into Decision Day with its postseason fate already decided would make it challenging for any team to be motivated, but Atlanta United is training this week to prepare their best for Sunday’s match. So, in this edition of the Training Notebook, we’ll run through all the things Atlanta United has to play for on Sunday.
Atlanta United’s opponent on Sunday is New York City FC, an Eastern Conference club they played to a draw at Yankee Stadium earlier this season. NYCFC is the defending MLS Cup champions – and the club that knocked the 5-Stripes out of the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs a season ago.
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda’s squad knows the caliber of the side showing up to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, so Atlanta United wants to put out a competitive product on the field.
“It has some relevance to me, and I think to the players it’s also important, so we’ll try to bring a good, competitive team for that and that game,” Pineda said.
For The Culture
Sunday will be an opportunity for Atlanta United to continue building the style it wants to play under Pineda. If there’s a positive result to come out of the 2022 season, it’s the fact that, in Pineda’s view, the club’s culture is trending in the right direction.
“I think the identity of the team is there,” Pineda said. “I think one thing I’m very proud of is people know how we play, and that’s important. When you get that from the players and they buy-in to the idea of playing a certain way, it’s important. At times, the results don’t come, but I think that’s the right foundation for what is coming.”
Pineda cited the team’s mood during training sessions and the relationships forming off-the-pitch as indicators the culture of the club is heading in the right direction. Also, the way that the team has dealt with adversity, and the many major injuries to starting players that led to the team's 'next man up' mentality, has been one of the most important signs.
“When the results didn’t come, we showed some personality that I really liked,” Pineda said. “We never gave up. We scored many goals in the last minutes of the games. That shows character, that shows the right mentality that I like. In other moments, we didn’t show that, but I think it’s going in the right direction.”
When faced with a disappointing season, the best place to look next is forward. There's a lot to look forward to about 2023. The return of injured players like Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson, the Leagues Cup (which announced details of its format today), the launch of a new MLS Streaming Service on Apple TV, a new club president for Atlanta United.
So, ending the season on a good note on Sunday could help the team close out a disappointing campaign and move forward into 2023 with a clean slate and a lot of promise.
“It may not be a game that has real value to it at the end of the day since we’re out of the playoffs, but nonetheless, it’s a game that everyone’s going to leave everything on the field as we prepare for next season,” Sejdić said. “So, I think what needs to be on everybody’s mind is we fell short of our objectives this year, but next year we’re going to come back stronger and better.”
During media availability on Thursday, both Pineda and Sejdić alluded to the importance of leaving it all on the field on Sunday, and the reason was clear: for the supporters. Pineda said his team wants to give the fans “a good show” on Sunday.
The match might be a tough one for fans to get excited about. While there may not be a postseason to look forward to, supporters can expect the same exciting atmosphere that only comes on Atlanta United match days. From the Golden Spike to the fan chants, the 17s always make Mercedes-Benz Stadium a fun place to be – and it’ll be the last chance in 2022 for us to experience that together.
“Without the fans of this club, I don’t think you have a club to begin with, so their energy, their support, their passion honestly does fuel us,” Sejdić said. “That’s what brings a different energy and fire out of us at home and when they’re rooting for us in that 89th minute and we’re able to score goals in the last couple of minutes, it comes from them. It’s that adrenaline, it’s that energy, it’s that passion.”