Atlanta United fought to a hard-earned draw against Minnesota United in the Carolina Challenge Cup Wednesday, despite dominating the possession and creating seemingly countless chances. And in preseason, where the team’s play matters more than results, Head Coach Tata Martino saw a turning point.
“It wasn’t better only because we created many chances,” Martino said through a translator, “but because we played better, were much more fluid and practically didn’t give the opponent any attacking chances. We’re adding more rhythm, and that’s the important part. In each game we’re growing, independent of the level of the opponents.”
It’s not just noticeable on the sidelines. That growing comfort level is noticeable in between the lines, and the increased confidence is starting to show from the players as well.
“I think even in the second half of the last game we started to come together,” added midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. “We just have to get the rust off and get down to the real thing. I think we did that tonight and created a number of chances and were dangerous all night.”
Seeing the team grow into their dominant possession style is a welcome sight for Atlanta United fans. But among the many chances, there was only one that hit the the net, and a debut goal will go a long way to help Ezequiel Barco feel more comfortable with his new team.
“The defenders gave me space to dribble the ball, so I dribbled and when they tried to close me down, I cut in towards the middle and aimed for the far post and fortunately was able to convert,” Barco said, through a translator, after his first goal for the club. “It’s a goal that I wanted to gain more confidence on the field and it helps the team to keep preparing ourselves in the best way to start the season, which is the most important.”
“It’s important for him,” Martino added. “It was a nice goal. I think before they didn’t award him a penalty that for me was more of a penalty than the one given to Minnesota. But, above all, he’s gaining rhythm and that’s the most important. As the games come, we’re incorporating the new players and they’re getting more used to playing with each other.”
But while there were positive signs, they were just flickers of the style that Atlanta United will hope to achieve all season long. So the players are as determined as ever to build on the performance.
“Even before the game we had an extensive film session where we went over little things that happened on Saturday and just the little things we need to take care of,” Larentowicz said. “[We’ll work on] figuring out our movements in the final third, get our midfielders in the right spots. And how we defend when the ball turns over.”
Atlanta United will wrap up their slate of preseason matches on Saturday against the Charleston Battery before heading on the road for their first match of the MLS regular season in Texas against the Houston Dynamo. They’ll then make their long-awaited 2018 home debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against D.C. United on March 11th. Tickets to that match are still available, make sure you’ve gotten yours here.