Training Notebook: The USWNT and preparing for New York City FC


It’s been a busy week at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. On Tuesday, Atlanta United welcomed the United States women’s national team to the facility. The group is using Atlanta United’s fields to train for the SheBelieves Cup, which takes place this weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The arrival of several national team stars has brought a lot of interest and media to the training ground this week. Several players have spoken to reporters, including Alex Morgan and Marietta native Emily Sonnett on Tuesday. The team is also getting to know the city with scheduled community events to promote visibility for U.S. and women’s soccer.

While the women are preparing for their first-ever match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United is hard at work for their third away match of the season. On Saturday night, the 5-Stripes travel to the Big Apple to take on New York City FC at Citi Field. 

Here are a few of the other storylines to come out of the Training Ground on Thursday, as we head into an exciting and historical weekend of soccer.

Alex Morgan Media Availability USWNT
U.S. women's national team striker Alex Morgan speaking to Atlanta media

Atlanta United availability update

At media availability on Thursday, head coach Gonzalo Pineda gave an update on several Atlanta United players, a preview of the Atlanta United Availability Report which will be announced Friday afternoon.

Pineda said the team’s leading scorer this season, Giorgos Giakoumakis, will be unavailable for Saturday’s match in New York City. The striker position could be short-handed with Daniel Ríos also missing the last match against Chicago Fire. Pineda said that Ríos completed a session today and that the trainers will evaluate him to determine his availability.

That means Jamal Thiaré could make the start at striker for Atlanta United on the road Saturday. The striker is coming off a career performance in the 3-0 win over Chicago. The 31-year-old scored his first career MLS goals in a brace on his birthday, which earned him a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday.

Xande Silva will also be out for Saturday’s match. The winger pulled a muscle during training this week. Pineda said the injury isn’t major and won’t require surgery, but it did rule him out for the next match. Center back Stian Gregersen is also still out with a knee injury, but Pineda said he is making “very good” progress.

The mission for road points

Atlanta United enters Saturday’s contest with a winning record. Five matches into the season, the 5-Stripes have won three times and lost twice, equaling nine points in the table. That total puts them right in the thick of the Eastern Conference leaders, and Atlanta United sits in sixth place.

All of Atlanta’s wins this season have come at home. And the numbers show Atlanta United plays better at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. At home in 2024, Atlanta United has outscored opponents 9-1 in those matches.

On the flip side, the 5-Stripes have yet to earn a result this season on the road. The team lost to Columbus Crew 1-0 in the season opener. The most recent loss on the road came north of the border when Atlanta United fell to Toronto FC 2-0 at BMO Field. Although, that match was considered an anomaly because Atlanta United was missing seven players, including six who were away on international duty.

“This one is going to feel a bit more normal, more us,” Pineda said. “Most of the starters will be there, so I feel that we are positive about this one.”

Atlanta United head coach with midfielder Thiago Almada (left)

This weekend, Atlanta United is looking to get a result on the road for the first time this season, which would mean not just the team’s first points of the season on the road but also the group's first goal scored away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“The objective is to win this one so we can get two points per game. With that, we kind of make up for the other two games that we didn’t win away," Pineda said. "The formula of winning at home and tying, at least, away is a good formula to get in the top four and compete for the [Supporters] Shield.”

Knocking it out of the park at Citi Field 

The venue for this match against New York City FC is Citi Field. The stadium is located in Queens N.Y. and is home of the baseball team the New York Mets.

The past few times these two MLS sides have faced off in New York City been at Yankee Stadium, home to the city's other baseball team, the Yankees. While Yankee Stadium is notoriously compact when converted for soccer, the expectation is a little less certain about Citi Field. Pineda said that his staff reviewed film of games played at Citi Field and thought the width looked the same as it is at Yankee Stadium. To prepare for this, Pineda and his staff reduced the width of the field during training this week to get players adjusted to playing in a more compact space.

“There’s still enough space to play the way we want,” Pineda said. “Of course, changing the point of attack is a big emphasis for us, but I think we can do that.”

The United States women’s national team and SheBelieves Cup

Atlanta United wasn’t the only group training Thursday morning. The United States women’s national team conducted a session a few fields over where Atlanta United held their practice at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground.

Crystal Dunn (left) and Jenna Nighswonger (right) of the U.S. women's national team

The United States plays Saturday against Japan in the opening match of the SheBelieves Cup. The two nations have a storied history and strong women’s national team programs. Both teams are currently in the top-10 in the FIFA rankings. The U.S. is currently ranked no. 4 and Japan is three spots down at no. 7.

“I think it’s going to be an electric game,” U.S. midfielder Sam Coffey said. “I know we’ve played against some big crowds, but I know we’re fighting for the record here of most attended friendly, which as a player is such exciting news to here. Obviously, you always want to play in front of amazing crowds and we do day in and day out, we have the best group of fans and supporters, but to hear that it’s pretty much sold out is so exciting."

It’s been eight years since the United States women’s team has played a match in Atlanta (the last time was in 2016 against Netherlands), so the team training in Marietta and playing in Atlanta has generated a lot of interest. As of Tuesday, the U.S. match has sold more than 45,000 tickets, already the second-most for a United States women’s friendly in history.

“Us getting 45,000 tickets sold for this game speaks volumes to the amount of interest in women’s soccer here in Atlanta, and it’s a great city,” veteran U.S. center back Abby Dahlkemper said. “We’re using the Atlanta United [training] complex here, and it’s been amazing so far. Hopefully, in the future we’ll get to see the league continue to grow.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium has opened the third level to accommodate more tickets. If more sell, the match could potentially break the record for the highest attendance in history for a USWNT friendly.

“I think it’s going to be an amazing environment for it,” Coffey said. “Atlanta is doing a great job of welcoming us in and they’re going to create the best environment for us to play and I know they’re going to have our backs Saturday.”

The SheBelieves Cup marks an important milestone for another player who calls Atlanta home. U.S. midfielder Mallory Swanson made her first national team camp since tearing the patellar tendon in her left knee during a friendly last year. Her injury took her out of joining the team in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and she’s been making her way back since.

Swanson has another connection to Atlanta – her husband is former Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson who was part of the team that won the World Series in 2021. If she sees the field on Saturday, Swanson is likely to get an emphatic welcome not just from USWNT fans but also from one of her many hometowns.

“I feel like I have a lot of homes, but Dansby and I always say that Atlanta is our main home,” Swanson said Wednesday during her media availability. “That’s where our family and that’s where our friends are. Our careers have taken us elsewhere, but Atlanta is always home. One thing I love about this city that I’ve learned after being here for the past few years is the amount of culture that there is within this city, and I think that’s so exciting.”

There’s a lot of soccer on the docket Saturday. With an early kickoff time of 12:30 p.m. for the SheBelieves Cup, it’s possible to attend the match and still catch Atlanta United’s away match on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV in the evening. What a great day for Atlanta soccer fans.

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