Atlanta United returned to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Tuesday with mixed emotions following their 1-1 draw against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Despite picking up a well-deserved point on the road, the team experienced two major losses to get that result.
Goalkeeper Brard Guzan suffered a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee and midfielder Franco Ibarra was issued a red card in Saturday’s game, leaving the 5-Stripes without two key pieces in their starting lineup for their next match against Toronto FC on April 15.
After training on Tuesday, the team spoke with media about how it's remaining focused on a “next man up” mentality and drawing on previous experience missing teammates going into next match day.
The Training Ground also had a special guest, Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, stop by prior to practice to meet with the team and see the facility. It was a busy start to the week for Atlanta United, so here’s a deeper dive into some of the main storylines:
Brad Guzan expected to miss time
In the 18th minute of Saturday’s game, New York City’s Gabe Segal contacted Guzan on a challenge and the goalkeeper remained on the ground for several minutes. It was a nerve-wracking sight considering Guzan missed most of last season after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Eventually, Guzan returned to his feet and played the entire rest of the game, helping the 5-Stripes earn a gutsy point on the road. But on Tuesday, the club announced that Guzan tore his MCL. He’s expected to miss approximately 10-12 weeks.
“I thought he was just taking his time getting up,” said midfielder Amar Sejdić. “But then after he was down for a couple minutes longer than I expected, that’s when I thought ‘Oh, something did happen.’ But at halftime, he seemed fine. He was amped up, ready to go.”
Guzan is known and respected for his vocal presence on the field. He’s a strong leader, not just for the backline but the entire team. Despite playing the majority of last season without him, Atlanta United knows that losing their captain will be a big obstacle to overcome.
Therefore, the team spent time doing small-sided scrimmages during training with goalkeepers, Quentin Westberg and Clément Diop. Both players got reps working quickly out of the back against high pressure.
“’Q’ is ready, Diop is ready,” Sejdić said. “This is an opportunity for them to help the team, just as it is for any player coming off the bench or even an Academy player. It’s that next man up mentality. That’s the way to approach it.”
Midfield working around Franco Ibarra’s absence
The 5-Stripes will also be without Ibarra this weekend since he'll miss the match due to a red card suspension. In the 62nd minute, Ibarra went for a hard challenge against NYCFC’s James Sands, and after review, was sent off the field, leaving Atlanta with 10 men the rest of the match.
While his suspension will not last as long as Guzan’s absence, Ibarra’s presence in the midfield will be missed just as much. Ibarra has started every game this season, leads the team in duels with an accuracy of nearly 60% and is one of the most accurate passers on the team, with more than 85% of passing success rate.
Just as with the goalkeepers, the team is already looking to the next man up and who can fill that central role.
“We know Ibarra can’t play, but we also have Santiago [Sosa] who can play that position very well,” said midfielder Matheus Rossetto. “I’ve also played that position in the past. We have players who are smart and know the game well who can play there.”
Whoever replaces Ibarra, they’ll likely be working in the midfield with Sejdić, who is confident in their abilities to work together.
“I try to play off the traits of the guys around me,” Sejdić said. “However, I can fill in that space and complement their style of play and have them complement mine if they step up, I’ll cover them and vice versa. I trust the guys that are around me.”
Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett in the house
Living just 15 minutes down the road, Jarrett admitted he was excited to finally meet the other Atlanta team that shares Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Conyers, Georgia native was able to walk around the Training Ground and speak with the multiple Atlanta United players, ranging from the youth to the first team.
“The most interesting thing I learned were the ranks working all the way up to the first team,” Jarrett said. “It’s different in football; we don’t have the Atlanta Falcons 12-unders, so this is good for me to learn another sport.”
After watching a few of the team’s warm-ups and drills, Jarrett was impressed by the level of competition and admired the work they were putting in.
“They’re professionals for a reason,” he said. “Seeing them doing these drills, I’d be tapped out by now. It would probably be tough for them to come out there with us. It’s just a mutual respect.”
Second shot at Toronto FC
This Saturday will be the team’s second meeting of the season with Toronto FC, this time on the road. Atlanta maintained 67% possession and took 16 shots compared to Toronto’s four during the game in early March; however, Atlanta’s potential game-winner was called offside, and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The result left the team feeling like they dropped points at home. Now, the group is looking at this upcoming game as a chance at redemption.
“I think we left some points on the table there,” Sejdić said. “I think the guys are going to be hungry going to Toronto to win those points that we should’ve taken home. We really have to go there and give our best game.”
Coming off playing on a narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium, the team hopes to find wider lanes and more space for attackers to run on at BMO Field. Sejdić said the team has become sharper with their passes and worked on a plan of attack that can be useful this Saturday.
“Considering Yankee field, one little turnover and they’re in your 18-yard box,” he said. “But as far as Toronto, it’s going to be a much bigger field. I think we’ll be able to utilize the space and get into their weak areas on the field and really penetrate going forward.”
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