Training Notebook: Southern showdown


Atlanta United is finally back in the swing of things and has returned to its regular matchweek routine. The team had a full week of training at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground after returning from their impressive 2-0 win at Seattle Sounders on Sunday.

The 5-Stripes now have their sights set on Saturday when they face Eastern Conference and southern rival Nashville SC. The two sides met up earlier this season at GEODIS Park, and Nashville collected the three points with a 3-1 win. Atlanta will get its rematch this weekend in front of a full-venue crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The anticipation for Saturday’s match grew even more this week after the club revealed its new ‘404 kit’ that it will debut against Nashville, and when Atlanta’s newest addition, Saba Lobjanidze, finally arrived in the city. The Georgian winger officially has his visa and will be available for the match.

Lobjanidze spoke with media for the first time Thursday. Head coach Gonzalo Pineda also gave insight on how they plan to keep the momentum going from Seattle to Nashville. Here are the storylines out of the Training Ground:

Success in Seattle 

Not only was Sunday’s win the first in club history at Lumen Field, but it was the first win for the club in all competitions since beating CF Montréal on July 8. The team agreed it was exactly what they needed to get back in the right mindset for their push towards playoffs.

“That was a good start,” Tristan Muyumba said. “We won, we took a clean sheet. I think Brad [Guzan] only saved like one or two shots, so it’s good to take a clean sheet for confidence, for the defense and for all of the team.”

It was the seventh clean sheet of the season for Atlanta, but it didn’t come easily. Along with Guzan’s two saves, the 5-Stripes made 22 clearances and blocked four shots to preserve the shutout. Guzan admitted they had a few mistakes, but they were able to recover when Seattle began putting on more pressure.

“We’re a team that wants to build, and when you build, there’s going to be times it’s a missed pass or a missed touch,” he said. “We then try to react as best we can. Hopefully those things don’t happen often. Seattle changed how they dealt with us, especially after the first 30-35 minutes, which happens in sports. The opposition adjusts when things aren’t going well for them, and you’ve got to be ready for that as best you can.”

On the other hand, Guzan said there were many defensive highlights from the match that the team needs to continue to do going forward. He said their awareness of each other played a huge role in why Seattle wasn’t as successful on the counterattack. Midfielders like Muyumba and Matheus Rossetto stayed back when defenders like Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon made runs forward, which prevented gaps in the midfield.

Atlanta also maintained nearly two-thirds of the possession in that match, which began to frustrate Seattle, according to Guzan. He said continuing to keep the ball and using that to control the game will be their best course of action for the next few months.

“For us to take the air out of the game, that certainly played in our favor and was something we were conscious about and want to really emphasize,” he said. “Going forward with these next nine games, dictating the game is huge for us.”


New guys in town

Two of Atlanta’s newest signings, Muyumba and winger Xande Silva, both made their first MLS starts on Sunday. The pair had a strong performance in the team’s win, with Silva having three shots on target in just the first half and Muyumba finishing with 93 percent passing accuracy. Pineda said he is impressed with how quickly they have integrated and helped the team.

“[Tristan’s] understanding of time and space is fantastic,” Pineda said. “He’s just an intelligent player. He’s versatile. He helps others around him be better. [Xande] is providing a lot of quality on the left side: his first touches, the way he goes at people, the way he connects with people in the final third. It’s impressive that those two are already impactful players, and they’re not 100 percent physically.”

Silva said it has been easy to fit right in with the team because the environment off the pitch has been “very good.” He claimed he has already built chemistry with Wiley on the left side because they have a good relationship outside the game. Continuing that team dynamic off the pitch will help them be successful during the season.

“I think everyone has had their moment to lead the team,” Silva said. “If everyone puts a little bit of that mentality, that type of attitude and positivity, I think we’re going to do well.”

Atlanta is hoping to continue the team integration and positive results on the field now that Lobjanidze has arrived. The winger said everything drew him to want to sign with Atlanta United – from the club’s history to the stadium and training facility. He said he was happy to finally be here and had been watching MLS games while in Europe.

The few weeks he was waiting for his visa and to come to America, he stayed active by training with his old club and with a fitness coach individually. While it’s unknown if or how much he will play against Nashville, Lobjanidze said he is up for the challenge.

“I will help the team a lot, and I have confidence about that,” he said. “I have a feeling I can play, so whatever coach will decide, I’m ready.”

Lobjanidze comes to Atlanta with years of experience, with nearly 300 appearances across all club competitions. Muyumba and Silva are just as tenured, coming from other notable clubs in Europe. Pineda said adding these older, more experienced players on the team provides a different kind of depth that the club was looking for during the summer transfer window.

“It was a point of emphasis with the new players, that we needed more experience,” he said. “They know how to act in a difficult league like MLS. I think they will make an impact with that. And it’s not just their age; it’s their personality, their character. It’s been good. So far, so good.”


Back at the Benz

Atlanta’s match against Nashville has been one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. The two teams currently sit at sixth and seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. The teams enter Saturday tied with 38 points apiece in the table. A win on Saturday could leap either team into the third-place spot.

Both sides are coming in with a bit of a chip on their shoulders and are hungry for a win. Atlanta has lost its last two matches at home, while Nashville is coming off a disappointing loss in penalty kicks last weekend to Inter Miami CF in the Leagues Cup final. Atlanta recognizes the strengths of Nashville, but they remain confident another win will come for them on Saturday.

“We’re focused on us,” Silva said. “Of course, we’ve watched a little bit of Nashville. They have a very good team, but we’re going to focus on us, and we’re going to do our job.”

For just the second time this season, the 300-level will be open at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with more than 60,000 fans expected to be in attendance. Pineda said playing this match at home after coming off the big win over Seattle is the perfect opportunity for the team to show their dominance and continue building momentum for the rest of the season.

“For me, it’s about who we are,” Pineda said. “We’ve just come out of a very good game where we were very dominant. Can we apply that even more now that we’re back at the Benz, a full stadium where we will have our fans yelling and cheering for us? 

“We need to show that we are more competitive than anyone else,” he added. “We have to show, to the fans and to ourselves, that we want to win more than the opponent. That’s been the message. We have to be aggressive against any opponent, especially at the Benz.”

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