To say Atlanta United players are excited to get back into a regular run of games is an understatement. After a stop-and-start summer of breaks, the squad is chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
“Having games then weeks off, then games then weeks off, that stopped our momentum a little bit,” said midfielder Chris McCann. “I think a run of games can really help us.”
“We miss playing games on a regular basis, that’s for sure,” club captain Michael Parkhurst said. “When we went up to DC, I think you could see we hadn’t played a game in a couple weeks, and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
But Atlanta United players and fans will get plenty of action now, with eight games in the next five weeks, a crucial stretch of games that could be the deciding month of the season.
“These matches are huge,” said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position, we’re sitting over the red line. But this is really what it’s all about, a lot of Eastern Conference rivals coming into our building, so that’s what we are going to have to take care of.”
“You always hear a team is only as strong as its weakest link and we’re going to find out how strong we are,” Parkhurst added. “Some guys who haven’t played as much this season are going to have to step up and play some big minutes for us, and the expectation is the level is not going to drop. Even if the squad is rotated, that doesn’t mean we are tossing a game away. We expect to win every game.”
First up in that crucial stretch is Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas. While the club has hit a recent dip in form, it boasts one of the most potent attacks in MLS. While Atlanta United’s squad is trying to focus on improving their own game, the players are aware of the threat their opponents pose, particularly on the counter attack.
“They’re very quick, intelligent players that will try to exploit your weaknesses if you’re not concentrated enough,” said defender Anton Walkes. “I think you always have to be switched on with those type of players and you have to be sure what’s going on behind you is nice and tidy if anything goes wrong and you turn the ball over.”
"When we play to our full potential I don’t think there are many teams that can handle us in this league,” McCann says. “So we just have to stick to our game plan, listen to what the manager says, and be as tight-knit as possible so we can go out there and get the maximum points.”
The match also marks the team’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium debut, something the players have been eagerly anticipating since the launch of the club.
“We’re just excited to finally be home in our stadium,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “I think everybody has been waiting for this moment. We finally get to have that second first game.”
But more than anything, the players say they’re looking forward to starting off this new era with a big three points.
“We’re feeling pretty confident that we’re back home for the next six games,” left back Greg Garza said. “As long as we get five out of six wins that would be a good push for the playoffs. Hopefully that can happen, and that’s what we are set on right now.”
“When these games come in such close succession, you can really get into momentum either way,” Parkhurst says. “I think it’s important to set the tone right in this first game with a win. We’ve travelled a lot, and now we get to reap the benefits of not being on the road, playing in front of our home fans and just getting on that regular basis of games. There’s everything to play for, and we’re excited about it”
The match kicks off Sunday at 3:30 p.m., and if you don’t have a ticket, you can tune in on Fox Sports 1, Fox Deportes or Fox Sports GO, as well as on our radio partners, 92.9 The Game and La Mejor Atlanta. The match is sold out, but make sure you have your spot saved for the next matches – against the New England Revolution on September 13th and Orlando City on September 16th – by clicking here.