Just eight days after facing Orlando City for the first time in team history, Atlanta United players are gearing up for a rematch back at home in the team’s last ever game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. While Atlanta United took the first three points, there’s always room for improvement, and head coach Tata Martino says he’s assessed what needs to be better for round two.
“We have to play more like we did in the first half of that game, in terms of managing possession and keeping control of the game,” Martino said this week through a translator. “We can also improve our final pass, because there were some opportunities where we had the chance to play a player in for a goal-scoring opportunity, but we were lacking that final pass.”
Despite the quick turnaround, there could be some major changes to the Orlando lineup. The main headline is the addition of experienced MLS forward Dom Dwyer, who joined the team from Sporting Kansas City earlier this week. The newly-capped U.S. international is someone Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan knows well from his own time with the national team.
“Obviously Dwyer adds another level to their team, but I just try to keep the ball out of the back of the net so that stays the same,” Guzan said. “He’s a good player, I saw that in U.S. camp, but playing professional sports, more often than not, you’re going to face teams with good players – and usually more than one guy. It doesn’t change our preparation.”
“For us, nothing changes,” forward Tito Villalba said through a translator. “We have a team mentality that it never changes, no matter who we play.”
The second change is the team’s top scorer Cyle Larin – who could only come on as a substitute last week after his return from international duty – expected to play a full-time role this time around. But coach Martino says he’s more focused on what his re-introduction means for the rest of Orlando’s lineup.
“Larin’s a great player who has different capabilities, but it’s possible they’ll line up with him and Dwyer up top like they did with Rivas and Barnes. But the main thing is seeing where they line up Kaka, whether they play with two forwards with Kaka dropping underneath them as a midfielder or out on the left.”
Last week’s win was Atlanta United’s third clean sheet in four matches, one of the team’s best defensive stretches of the season so far. Atlanta’s defenders say the foundation was always there, and now they’re hoping to build on this run.
“I feel we’ve just had to reflect on how we’ve been letting in a few of the goals,” defender Anton Walkes says. “And also just tidy up the small things, because the small things were what was killing us to start. Plus Brad showed some unbelievable saves, and he’s a great leader. He was one of the loudest players on the pitch.”
“It’s about putting in 90 minute performances,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz says. “I think there are games when we aren’t sharp in the beginning of the game or beginning of the half we give up a goal. But the concentration levels have been higher.”
Saturday will also mark Atlanta United’s last-ever game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. While the players voiced excitement about moving into their state-of-the-art facility at Mercedes-Benz stadium, they acknowledged it’s a bittersweet moment to leave the team’s first home.
“Bobby Dodd has been sensational,” defender Greg Garza says. “I think the people have really made the atmosphere unreal, and I’m very happy to have played there. I think our fans may have made it a lot better than what college football can be, so I’m sure all the Atlanta fans are proud of that.”
While the atmosphere of a budding rivalry continues to simmer off the field, the players say they are just focused on getting another valuable three points in their push for a playoff spot.
“The first half put us in a good position, but we all know now is the time to turn it up,” Larentowicz says. “Our position in the table is fine, but I think we can continue to go up, so that’s the way we look at it. The first half is over and what’s done is done. Now we’ll look to take advantage of what’s left.”
The game is set to kick off Saturday at 5:00 p.m. EST, and the game will be broadcast on FOX and FOX Sports GO. Tickets are sold out, but fans can still get in for the historic final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium via Ticketmaster Verified Resale here.