Training Notebook: Turning the page on the first half of the season and preparing for Houston Dynamo FC

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After a week-long break with MLS match, Atlanta United are preparing to start the second half of the 2024 season. On Saturday, June 15, they will match up against Houston Dynamo FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The break was much needed after the 5-Stripes played nine games, seven MLS and two Open Cup matches, over the stretch of a month. The week off also coincided with several players being called up to represent their national teams for international play.

After practice on Thursday, MLS veteran Dax McCarty and interim head coach Rob Valentino spoke to local media. Here are a few other storylines to come out of the Training Ground on Thursday, including about turning the page on the first half of the season, what tactical changes can be expected under new leadership, and how the team can gain confidence as they continue to push for the playoffs.

Player Availability

To start his media availability, Valentino spoke about the player availability for Saturday. Stian Gregersen will not be available due to a hamstring injury that he suffered during the match against Charlotte FC.

Homegrown Tyler Wolff, who missed over a month with an MCL strain, practiced with the team on Thursday. But if he is match ready will be confirmed on Friday once the club releases their Availability Report presented by Piedmont.

Opening a new chapter

Though the results were not what the club desired, there is optimism in knowing there is still half a season left in the regular season.

“It is not like we have five games left in the season,” said McCarty. “We have half a season left. So, I hope there is not one guy in the locker room who thinks the season is over because it is not. We can definitely make it right and make some noise in the season still.”

In order to “make some noise” a point that has been emphasized is the need for more goals. It is not that they are not getting the chances – quite the opposite. Often the average expected goals generated by the team exceeds the actual output during a match. McCarty expressed that best way to tackle that is flexibility and acceptance that to make chances, you must take chances.

“Rob has done a good job in trying to instill confidence in guys,” said McCarty. “By saying ‘try things’ and it if it doesn’t work, move onto the next play. That is the only way to move forward. You can’t hang your head, you can’t sulk. That type of body language resonates throughout the team and then everyone loses confidence... let’s not be afraid to make mistakes.”

The ability to adapt quickly is learned aspect of any sport. Because of the amount of injuries Atlanta has dealt with, there must be a next man up mentality. Players like Caleb Wiley, Noah Cobb, and Efrain Morales – all homegrowns – have stepped up this season. McCarty says the young players have been “brilliant” and they are lucky to have such a “mature group”.

With 18 years in MLS under his belt, if anyone can be a leader to the young players on the team, it is McCarty. He says his leadership style is just about being himself. A strong room often reflects itself most during times of adversity.

“It is a start to try and move in the right direction now when we have had this time off. It is a little bit of a reset and the training sessions under Rob have been really sharp. While there is sadness a colleague lost their job, there is excitement that we need to move forward because the season won’t stop for anybody.”

Better process equals better results

Valentin began his media availability putting a focus on the process. The team knows the results they want – three points out of a match, winning as many games as possible, ending the regular in the best possible position. But for Atlanta’s interim coach, the process takes precedent. Shared ownership and finding excitement in the day to day are the first steps in that process for Valentino.

“The thing we have talked about is how to move forward,” said Valentino when asked about how to go forward as frustration could mount. “The shared ownership and the shared success are a part of the past. I have done my closure on how that all works and know we must push forward. What emotions are we going to channel now? Now it is more about the joy, the excitement, and intensity. I am looking at day to day, and I asked them to look that way as well.”

Valentino also echoed an earlier point made by McCarty about how mistakes are a part of the sport. Limiting them and or knowing how to recover from them is key in managing the match. During this stretch of play, the 5-Stripes have conceded goals quickly after scoring ones of their own. Confidence on the ball is one thing Valentino wants to improve on.

“I want them to make mistakes, but I want them to make new mistakes,” said Valentino. “If we are making same mistakes, we have issues. If we are making new ones, we can learn from it and move on. It is giving them ability to be vulnerable in the moment. If they want to try a pass and it comes off, great. If it doesn’t, they are going to work to get it back.”

Along with confidence, getting back to an aggressive mentality is what Atlanta wants on Saturday, especially at home. As of now, they have lost five matches in row at home.

“We want this (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) to be a place where people come and bring energy, and the fans do that every week,” said Valentino. “We owe it to them to be better. We are going to look forward about having that aggressive mentality. And if I am going to be in charge at the moment, that is on me to lead that from the front.”

Atlanta United look to get three points at home for the faithful 17s. Fans not attending the match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium can catch the 7:30 kickoff and all the action on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. As well as listening on local radio 92.9 The Game and La Mejor.

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