Atlanta United players look ahead to Sporting KC challenge

Atlanta United players are looking ahead to a tough matchup this weekend against Sporting Kansas City. It presents a unique challenge to Atlanta’s offense specifically, as they prepare to face the league’s top defense so far this year.

“They’re a very unified group,” Head Coach Tata Martino said through a translator. “They defend as a unit, they don’t give you a lot of space to get in between the lines. They play really short passes and try to keep possession. When they lose the ball they’re all together in a line so it makes it hard to break them down.”

Miguel Almirón returned to full training Friday after a short turnaround from his trip to Chicago midweek for the MLS All-Star appearance. While the Paraguayan number 10 praised Sporting’s defense, he urged his teammates to not focus solely on SKC’s defensive prowess.

“It’s not just their defense,” Almirón said through a translator. “They’re a complete team, so they have good attacking players as well. There’s a reason why they’re the top of the West right now, so we’re going to try to be as prepared as we can to make it a tough game for them.”

Sporting Kansas City are still adapting to the loss of one of the franchise’s top-scoring forwards of all time, Dom Dwyer. But Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said the team wouldn’t have let Dwyer go if they weren’t capable of scoring without him.

“I think [SKC head coach] Peter [Vermes] does a good job of running their system, as opposed to their individuals,” Guzan said. “They have a good atmosphere at their stadium, they’re a good team, they press high, they have good energy, and that all starts with Peter. So we have to make sure that we’re up for it from the beginning.”

The void left by Dom Dwyer meant Diego Rubio started in the center forward role for SKC last week, with the 3-2 win a promising sign for the new look attack. Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said Rubio brings a different dynamic to the team.

“He may not be as individually talented, but he might fit the system and the team a little bit better,” Parkhurst said. “He links up well with his teammates, he brings them into the play. He’s always looking to hold the ball, lay off and run. He’s a smart player. Not as fast or one-on-one maybe, doesn’t have the same fight as Dwyer but a very good soccer player.”

Meanwhile Atlanta United will be without Greg Garza after his separated shoulder during the MLS All-Star game ruled him out of the side for at least a week. But the players are confident the squad has enough depth to cope with the loss.

“Mikey [Ambrose] has been great for us, and in the limited time that he’s gotten for us I thought he’s done very well,” Parkhurst said. “Greg is an important part of the team of course, the way he gets up and down, but we’ll ask the same from Mikey.

“For us, it’s a shame what happened to Greg,” Guzan said. “But that’s what being part of a team is all about. One guy goes down and another steps up.”

Sunday marks the first match of a three-match road trip for the squad before they make their return to Atlanta for their Mercedes-Benz Stadium debut next month. Tickets are sold out for that match, but there are still spots available for the next game against the New England Revolution here.