Training Notebook: Summer session


After a couple of days off, Atlanta United got back to work at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Wednesday. The full training session was open not just to media but to nearly 200 season ticket holders.

The supporters commuted to Marietta on buses and filed along the side of the training pitch to watch the team under the hot, June sun. The players stayed after training to sign autographs and take pictures with the fans.

Following nearly two hours of work in the unforgiving heat, Amar Sejdić and Brooks Lennon found some shade to speak with media. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Recovering after a loss

Atlanta’s seven-match unbeaten streak came to an end last weekend when the team fell 4-0 to New York Red Bulls on the road. It was the second-most goals the group had allowed all season and continued their struggle of going winless on the road in the last nine matches. It was also only the second match this season the team was shutout.

“It was a disappointing result for us,” Lennon said. “Not the way we want to represent Atlanta United. And we knew Red Bulls was going to come out, press high, be very intense in challenges, in aerial duels, and we just didn’t match that intensity from minute one.”

As was the case in many other matches this season, the goals allowed on Saturday were caused by lapses in focus or losing possession in Atlanta’s defensive third. Red Bulls got on the board first when a throw-in bounced twice into the box before Daniel Edelman hit a volley about 10-yards out. With the second and fourth goals, New York won the ball and Atlanta was unable to recover quick enough to stop the counterattack.

In the post-match press conference, head coach Gonzalo Pineda said the team needed to be “much better” on the ball and stick to the game plan even when things start to not go their way.

The team showed their desire to be better in Wednesday’s training during the multiple possession-based drills. There was lots of intensity and focus seen among the guys, including Sejdić, who echoed Pineda’s thoughts afterwards.

“It’s sticking to how we know how to play, but maybe kind of turning up when we do lose the ball,” Sejdić said. “The counter-pressure, the first five seconds after that, how can we have the energy to be contagious where, as soon as you lose the ball, one guy presses, the next guy follows, the guy behind him follows. From there, we recoup the ball and then start another attack.”


Prepping for Philly

This Sunday, Atlanta will host Philadelphia Union, who are like Red Bulls in that they play direct and compact. Philadelphia’s diamond-shaped midfield is the key to their playing style that Atlanta has noticed and began preparing for.

When the midfield is in that shape, it can get congested in the middle but frees up the spaces out wide for the wingers to make runs. With that in mind, Wednesday’s training included drills that focused on maintaining possession before switching and turning to attack out wide.

In one drill, a small rectangle was divided into halves, with two teams playing 5v3 on each side. The team with more players had to connect at least five passes before finding a teammate in the other half, who could then look to score on pug goals about 15 yards out.

Toward the end of practice, the team went to an 11v11 scrimmage on half the field. Again, each team had to first string together five passes but then would look to switch the field out wide to continue the attack.

“What we worked on today is switching the point of attack and attacking immediately down the side,” Lennon said. “Those wide areas when playing against a diamond are very important. We’ve watched a bit of film on Philly. We’re going to continue to do so throughout the week and prepare as best as possible so we can be successful.”

The 5-Stripes use a different formation in their midfield, meaning they would be outnumbered against Philadelphia. However, Atlanta has already considered how to combat this disadvantage; they just need to be aware and read the game.

“You could say that there’s four versus three, but if we have our striker dropping in as a false 10, then we’re 4v4,” Sejdić said. “It’s just a matter of how we can play from the pressure quickly with one or two touches, switch to the point of attack and then break from there.”


The new and the young bucks

We’ve hit the midway point of the season, meaning the guys have had enough time now to get to know each other, specifically their newest addition Giorgos Giakoumakis. The Greek striker joined the team in February and has been remarkable in his first few months in the league.

Giakoumakis leads the team with 10 goals in 15 appearances, but it’s his hard work more than his stat sheet that influences the team.

“He’s a competitor; he wants to win,” Sejdić said. “He’s hungry and he’s not complacent. He’s a guy that you really want to work for and who works for you as well.”

Some of the younger guys have also shown their hard work the past few weeks with many teammates out on international duty. After an impressive few performances, 20-year-old Tyler Wolff has been inserted into the starting lineup on the right side with Lennon. He said he gives advice to Wolff as he earns more minutes on the field.

“Tyler’s a young kid. He’s still learning different situations, and we’re both learning the best possible ways to play with each other,” Lennon said. “You see his qualities in the final third; he’s got a very good shot. I just try to encourage him, make sure that he’s staying positive and confident in himself.”

Wolff was one of many young guys who showed up for the team in recent matches and who was bringing the intensity to Wednesday’s training. Lennon said he and the other veterans are proud of the young players and are continuing to motivate them as they head into the second half of the season.

“I remember being in their shoes when I was a youngster,” Lennon said, “and sometimes you can go in with a little bit less confidence in yourself as you normally would if you were training around a group of guys that are your age.

“Just trying to let these kids know that they’re here for a reason,” he added. “They’ve got qualities, just focus on doing your job. Don’t worry about anything else that’s happening around or outside the field. Focus on doing your role to the best of your ability and keeping your head down and working as hard as possible. That should lead to success.”
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