Training Notebook: The final stretch


Atlanta United had its last training session on Friday morning before departing to the Northwest to face Seattle Sounders on Sunday. The match will be the first regular season game in over a month for both sides after making early exits in the inaugural Leagues Cup tournament in July.

With only 10 matches left in the season, Atlanta is looking to start strong by picking up points on the road. The club is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, which would qualify for the playoffs, but the 5-Stripes want to move to the top-four to secure a home playoff match.

“I told them the next 10 games are 10 finals, but you have to start with the first one,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “We have to send a message that no matter where we are, home or away, we have to show the same mentality, the same aggression.”

Pineda and multiple Atlanta players spoke with media throughout the week about what the team worked on during the break and how they plan to take on the final stretch of the season. Here are some of the storylines from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground this week:

Leagues Cup Lessons

Failing to advance from the group stage of Leagues Cup was a tough pill for Atlanta to swallow. The group was in a do-or-die situation after falling 4-0 to Inter Miami CF, and despite a strong performance at home against Liga MX side Cruz Azul, Atlanta was eliminated on penalty kicks.

“We were really pissed off to get out of Leagues Cup the way that we did,” fullback Brooks Lennon said. “Obviously very unfortunate to lose in penalty kicks. We need to be advancing in tournaments like that to the next round. So, I think we all had that mentality of we need to get back to winning ways, and it starts on the training field.”

Although the results weren’t what the team was hoping for, those matches provided two opportunities for them to analyze what’s working and what they need to change. The goal they conceded in the Cruz Azul match was an incident the team recognized as a major error they needed to prevent in the future. The group spent sessions focusing specifically on pressing in certain areas of the field along with other tactics upon winning the ball.

“Our press, we’ve really worked on dissecting and making it clear what our roles are individually,” defender Caleb Wiley said. “It starts with GG [Giorgos Giakoumakis] or Miguel [Berry], they start off the press, and then everyone knows their roles after that.

“And then also keeping the possession,” Wiley continued. “We don’t have to go to goal right when we win the ball back. Keep possession, get the opponent moving around, get them tired, and then we figure out when the best time is to attack.”

Despite the losses, the team was pleased with multiple aspects of both matches, specifically against Cruz Azul. Atlanta maintained 60% of possession, took 15 shots and connected nearly 200 more passes than Cruz Azul.

The team collectively agreed the circumstances and environment added to the intensity in that match, and although those factors can’t be replicated in the final ones of the season, they said they must always play as if they are in the same situation.

“It’s massive to have a game like that, where it’s lose and go home or win and advance,” Lennon said. “Having that type of mentality going into the last 10 games, treating every one like it’s a playoff game... that’s the kind of pressure that we need to put on ourselves.”


Integrating the new additions

Atlanta’s pause from MLS play coincided with the summer transfer window, where the club added four new players to the roster. Although Pineda and the players said they didn’t exactly want that break, it did give them the opportunity to begin integrating the new signings into the system.

Atlanta is still awaiting the arrival of Saba Lobjanidze and Jamal Thiare, but Tristan Muyumba and Xande Silva have joined the team and spent the last few weeks training with them.

Muyumba made his debut in the Cruz Azul match as a starter and played the full 90 minutes. The players and coaching staff recognized his immediate impact in the midfield and are optimistic about how he will help them going forward.

“That first exposure against Cruz Azul highlighted many of the attributes that he’s going to contribute to the team,” Pineda said. “He highlighted his creative nature, and we’re very pleased with that, but I will say the best part of Tristan so far has been his humility. He’s been a guy that’s always willing to put in the effort, doesn’t complain, just does what he has to do to the best of his ability with zero ego. That’s something very important to us. Character matters here.”

For Silva, he will be available on Sunday to make his first appearance for the 5-Stripes against Seattle. Although he hasn’t played a game with the team yet, he has already impressed his teammates with his abilities during training.

“Xande’s been here for a short time, but he’s a good player one-on-one,” midfielder Matheus Rossetto said. “He loves those battles one-on-one, so I think that was a player that we needed. I think we will be more dangerous on the offensive end.”

None of the new signings are true defenders; Tristan is a midfielder, Lobjanidze and Silva classify more as wingers and Thiare will come in as a striker. Atlanta’s vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said earlier in the month that the idea behind adding more offensive assets was to give the team a little more balance overall. For example, the new wingers would allow defenders like Lennon and Wiley to focus more on their defensive duties instead of filling in so often on the wings.

"It’s a different position playing a little bit deeper and inside, so it’s just an understanding of where I am and where I need to be positioned,” Wiley said. “If Xande is tucked in, that gives me an opportunity to take that space, but I have to realize it doesn’t have to be every time. That’s something that I do a lot, and I end up getting tired, and by the 60th, I’m already gassed. So, picking the right moments is something I’ve got to get better at.”


Setting the tone at Seattle

Sunday’s match will be a big test for Atlanta as they kick off the last leg of the regular season. The team lost their last two MLS matches before the two Leagues Cup losses, so they are hungry for three points. The last time the 5-Stripes lost multiple games in a row this season, they responded with a huge 4-0 win over Colorado Rapids. 

Seattle will be a strong opponent for Atlanta; they sit in the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings, only five points out of first place. Despite how tough it is to get a win on the road in this league, the 5-Stripes are confident they will get a result at Lumen Field.

"They’re going to be at home,” Pineda said. “I expect them to be strong in the first 15-20 minutes. They’re probably going to try to put pressure on us, and we shouldn’t allow that. That’s part of the game plan.”

Seattle will be the first of many high-quality teams the 5-Stripes will face during the next few months. Atlanta has two matches against Supporters Shield favorites FC Cincinnati along with rematches against Nashville, Philadelphia and D.C., which could shake up the Eastern Conference standings.

Regardless of who they face, the team is more determined than ever to put more results in the win column. They have spent the past three weeks rebuilding their mindset and said they are confident in their ability to get results in every match for the rest of the season.

“Just believing and having that no fear mentality, in terms of whoever the opponent is, we have to know that we can come out with a win,” Lennon said. “I think with the quality that we have on this field, we shouldn’t be afraid or back down to anybody.”

Leagues Cup

Leagues Cup

All of the clubs from MLS and Liga MX will compete in a completely reimagined Leagues Cup: an annual, month-long tournament that runs from July 26-August 25, 2024.

Resurgens Kit

Resurgens Kit

Blue is a nod to the renewal of Atlanta. Yellow represents Atlanta’s vibrant history and identity. This is Atlanta United's latest community kit.