After a road trip to the West Coast, the team trained on Thursday ahead of its second consecutive road trip. Training began at 9 a.m. sharp. The team warmed up on the far side of the pitch then went through Rondos.
Toward the end of practice before media availability, the team split up on opposite sides of the near field. On the side closest to reporters, defenders were with assistant coach Rob Valentino, working on crossing and clearances.
On the other side, attacking players took turns challenging goalkeepers Rocco Ríos Novo and Raúl Gudiño with penalty kicks. The tables turned for a brief moment and Gudiño took a few shots from the penalty spot on attacker Luiz Araújo. However, Araújo’s stint in goal was short-lived. Once Gudiño put a shot on goal, and lifted his arms toward the sky to celebrate, Araújo handed the goalkeeper back his gloves.
Atlanta United spent time this week on what head coach Gonzalo Pineda calls “little details.” The season is past the halfway point and, like most MLS clubs, Atlanta United has struggled to collect points on the road. But the club’s desire to win is strong. And, in the words of Pineda, “now is the moment” for his team to come together to get results:
“I would say 95-98 percent of the training sessions have high quality, are high intensity, and then most of the games I felt that we played very good, but we haven’t collected points,” he said. “So now is the moment to continue. Just keep going, head down, just work, work harder. Work a little better, work a little bit smarter, come together. The togetherness is very important now, and then we start to just produce points and make plays, and that’s very important to me.
Here are a few more insights and observations from the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Thursday.
Being On The Front Foot
The team is using this week to clean up some aspects of its play, specifically working on skills like crossing, finishing, movement and a more fluid connection between the attackers and defenders.
One of those details is not conceding goals early. The club gave up a goal to L.A. Galaxy on Sunday in the 7th minute, putting the team in a position to chase for the equalizer.
Pineda wants to change that. So, coaches emphasize being more alert in the opening minutes of the game, starting at the opening whistle. Pineda also wants the team to produce just as many chances when they’re winning as they do when they have to chase from behind.
“We are conceding goals in the first 10-15 minutes of the games and that’s becoming an issue that we are trying to address and we are trying to fix,” Pineda said. “So hopefully, this game we can go in at halftime with a clean sheet.”
Andrew Gutman Update.... And Caleb Wiley
Fullback Andrew Gutman returned to practice last week but didn’t make the trip to L.A. When asked about his status on Thursday, Pineda confirmed that Gutman would be available for the Chicago match.
Gutman’s return could signal more flexibility on the left side of the pitch. Inserting him into the backline would allow Caleb Wiley to play more as a winger. According to Pineda, that position could make Wiley more active into the final third where he’s been productive at times this season.
“I think that can release some of the defensive duties for him where Andrew [Gutman] is fantastic,” Pineda said. “He’s a tremendous competitor. And that could be a good pair. Obviously, we have to see the different options, but obviously there are more options there for sure.”
As of Thursday, Atlanta United has earned 24 points with a 6-9-6 record. That puts the club in 12th place in the Eastern Conference going into the Chicago match this weekend.
The season is far from over, especially in a table as crowded as the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United is just four points shy of FC Cincinnati, a club currently above the playoff line, and just six points behind Orlando and Columbus in fifth and sixth place.
Still, with the season more than halfway over, Atlanta United is running out of time to get the points they need to catch up. However, the team is taking those expectations in stride and using it as motivation.
“Pressure is in everything we do,” Pineda said. “When you’re at a club like Atlanta United, you want to win every game.”
“Pressure is a good thing,” defender Aiden McFadden said. “We want to get better, regardless of points. That’s the goal as a professional athlete, to get better. So that’s what we’re doing today.”
“We need to start winning now, so the time to change things is right now,” Araújo said. “We’re in second to last place in the conference, but the teams around us don’t have a lot more points than we do. So, this is the time. We need to start winning games and moving up.”
Creating Momentum Against Chicago Fire
With that in mind, Atlanta United is looking to create some forward momentum with their next match against Chicago Fire on Saturday. Getting three points on the road against a team that’s been playing well as of late could propel the team into a massive full-venue match at home on August 6 against Seattle.
“It’s about two, three results that we can turn into momentum for us,” Pineda said. “So this game is obviously very important in order to do that.”
Last time out, Atlanta United beat Chicago Fire 4-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on May 7. Striker Ronaldo Cisneros scored a hat trick in the first half and was awarded with Team of the Week, Player of the Week and Goal of the Week honors.
However, Atlanta United faces a different Chicago side this time around. The Fire are surging as of late, winning three straight matches, including one on the road, and outscoring its opponents 6-1. So, a win on Saturday could hold a lot of weight for Atlanta.
“I think if we win this game, it will give us more confidence and will help us as we try and move up the table,” Araújo said.
- It’s a full-venue match for Atlanta United on Saturday, August 6 when they face Gonzalo Pineda’s former team Seattle Sounders. Be sure to secure your ticket and be part of the rowdy and proud at Mercedes-Benz Stadium!