Training Notebook: U.S. Open Cup magic is in the air as Atlanta United prepares for LAFC

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After a string of away matches, Atlanta United is back at home to take on strong Western Conference opponent, Los Angeles Football Club. After practice on Thursday, midfielder Dax McCarty and head coach Gonzalo Pineda spoke to local media on the midweek match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against Charleston Battery and how they plan on getting three points against LAFC.

Atlanta United availability update

At media availability this Thursday, head coach Gonzalo Pineda went into detail about who fans can expect to see on the pitch on Saturday against LAFC; a preview to what will be confirmed when Atlanta releases their Availability Report presented by Piedmont on Friday afternoon.

Against FC Cincinnati, both Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis left the match due to injury. They did not play during the match against Nashville SC. Pineda said that Giakoumakis is more than likely “out” for the match,along with Tyler Wolff and Noah Cobb.

On a brighter note, Almada and Derrick Williams were at practice with the team. Their availability will be determined on Friday.

The 5-Stripes are in the middle of their second double matchweek in a row. Last week it was a Wednesday match against FC Cincinnati and a Saturday match Nashville SC. On Tuesday, they advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup after defeating Charleston Battery in penalty kicks.

With Giakoumakis out, there is an opportunity for another player to slot into that spot, but that will depend on the recovery of players that played on Tuesday. Daniel Ríos started against Nashville and logged minutes against Charleston. He came into the match against Charleston for Jamal Thiaré, who made his first start for the club since April 6.

Building on Open Cup magic

After a tough stretch of MLS play, the 5-Stripes hope that the promising results of the U.S. Open Cup will right the ship. In the Round of 32, they dominated Charlotte Independence in a 3-0 victory. For the Round of 16, Atlanta faced the best team in the USL in the Charleston Battery.

It was hard fought match that remained scoreless after regulation and extra time. It took some late time heroics during the penalty kicks from goalkeeper Josh Cohen to send Atlanta to the quarterfinals.

Though it was not in MLS play, there is the feeling that gutting out a win like that, along with the comeback draw against Nashville SC, will help the team get back to winning ways.

“I think the last two matches have been an improvement on a focus standpoint,” said veteran midfielder Dax McCarty. “The Nashville game, you go back to it, and it is two teams who aren’t in the best of form and desperate for points. So, I saw a very concrete focus from us to stay tuned in. And that is not just when the ball is in play, that is during set pieces and throw ins. I think in the past, we switched off. These are moments we are trying to improve on as a team. It is not going to be perfect, it never is, but I have been happy with the way we have been able to tighten things up.”

As a player with more than 500 MLS appearances, regular season and postseason, , McCarty has seen and done it all when it comes to soccer. For him, the best way to deal with pressure that comes with an up-and-down season is accountability and confidence. Even the smallest of steps is building towards much needed wins. According to McCarty, “it takes one game of good, clean and crisp attacking play.”

The 5-Stripes will have their work cut out for them against LAFC. The west coast club is 6-4-3 with 21 points on the MLS table. They have won four out of their last five matches, two of which were for the Open Cup.

“I think that, especially being at home, we need to make sure we are on the front foot right away,” said McCarty when asked what he thinks is key to combat LAFC. “Obviously our stadium is such a fortress. When you score an early goal, and you get everyone excited and the other team feels that pressure, that is such a benefit.”

Be proactive, not reactive

Head coach Gonzalo Pineda agreed with McCarty about Atlanta needing to assert their style of play early in the match.

“It is part of the message,” said Pineda. “What we said is being on the front foot and proactively trying to create as many chances as possible will give us the best probability to win matches. We need to try that, especially at home.”

Atlanta United soccer is characterized by strong possession numbers and being aggressive offensively. Always pressing for the best result. Despite the injuries and changes in the lineup, Pineda has not strayed from that game plan. It is the next man up mentality that spreads not only through the first team, but the second team as well.

The last two positive results for the club have been ones they had to fight for, and Pineda sees that as a positive.

“I think we are on the right path,” said Pineda. “I think it is really encouraging for the team, for the mentality of the team, to win. We did it with seven homegrowns. That to me, is a testament to the team’s character. That victory with the PKs, Josh making the last two saves, and Stian (Gregersen) taking the six. There are many positives out of that. We have to hold onto that positivity, and the mentality of the players that fought and put that together on Saturday.”

Atlanta United will look to get three points against LAFC. Fan not attending the match can catch 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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