After a workout focusing on fitness this morning, Michael Parkhurst, Yamil Asad, and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez talked to reporters as Atlanta looks forward to a weekend off before heading to Seattle to face the Sounders.
Keeping focus and building momentum
While Atlanta is looking to keep momentum going once the break ends, Michael Parkhurst noted that the club was working on keeping team shape this week. He also said Atlanta is preparing for the possibility that the players on international duty may not be available for the entire game in Seattle saying, “we don’t know if those guys will be able to play from the start so we are working on integrating other guys into the lineup.”
Atlanta United is off to a hot start and sits in first place after three games in the Eastern Conference. Despite the early success, Yamil Asad is keeping things in perspective saying, “we haven’t won anything yet, we’ve only played two games and we know it’s a really long season so we’re just trying to do our best and have a great season.”
Defensive chemistry has been an early surprise
While Atlanta has looked scary good on offense, the defense has only allowed three goals and kept a clean sheet against the Fire. Michael Parkhurst discussed how the team is jelling and noted that “overall it’s been good, we of course want to continue to improve and get better. We know that defending set pieces is going to be a big concern for us so defensively limiting the opportunities we give other teams in those situations is going to be key for us which we’ve done a good job of. Overall we’ve been satisfied.”
Fellow defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said the chemistry on defense “is going really well, we have a good relationship and especially on the field we have a good understanding of each other and it is something that is going to keep improving everyday.” Pirez, who speaks some English and joked the he would be fluent in a month, discussed communication on the back line saying, “I know the basics in English and I am able to communicate with the guys on defense.” This is welcome news since the atmosphere in Seattle will test United and communicating well will be key in the match.
Although several core players are missing, Parkhurst talked about maintaining focus and momentum going over the break, saying “this isn’t a wasted week just because there’s no game on the weekend. This is a chance for us to train hard knowing that we don’t need our legs to be 100% fresh on the weekend.” As captain he said he would keep momentum going by “leading by example and bringing the intensity and attitude everyday” in practice.
International level atmosphere
All three players discussed the atmosphere that Atlanta United fans have been creating for home games. Parkhurst compared the experience to playing in Germany saying, “every stadium you play in in Germany is full, there’s singing there’s an atmosphere and that’s what it’s like here in Atlanta but even bigger.” Talking about the fan support, Yamil Asad said “it’s fantastic, myself and all my teammates are all impressed by the support from the fans.” Both LGP and Asad compared playing in Atlanta to playing in Argentina with Asad adding, “it’s comparable to Argentina, the difference is some fans in Argentina are a little crazier.”
Attention on the attack
One of the strongest points of attack for Atlanta has come from left back Greg Garza and left midfielder Yamil Asad. The young Argentine discussed how the connection he has with his teammates led to Martinez’s first goal against Chicago saying, “you could really see the connection between me, Greg, and Miguel and we were able to link up with Josef and he was able to score.”
Chicago presented a unique challenge to Atlanta even when they went down a man. Atlanta is built to press, force turnovers, and break in transition to create chances. After going down a man the Fire tried to absorb pressure and find David Accam on the counter to score. While this gave United over 80% possession in the game, it did not play into Atlanta’s strengths as a speedy team built to score off of turnovers.
The result was that Atlanta’s possession didn’t lead to many goals until the second half despite their one man advantage. While it may have been tempting to say coach Martino should switch things up and perhaps put in Kenwyne Jones to head home a cross against Chicago’s second string center back once Johan Kappelhof was sent off, Asad said Tata didn’t consider making any changes at the half. Asad has clearly taken to coach Martino’s system and commend that, “games are 90 minutes, so we try and play a full 90 minute game. I think that in that game we were superior to Chicago and over the course of 90 minutes we were able to prove that and get some goals in the second half.”
Atlanta was so effective that center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez even had a chance at goal. In the 88th minute against the Fire, LGP nearly scored after collecting a ball at midfield and charging forward. He described the play saying, “I was able to play it out to Greg Garza and [he] sent in a cross that I headed - very poorly,” he joked about his shot that went just wide of goal. While his primary job is stopping the other team from scoring Pirez says, “Tata asks us to always play and be aggressive even as defenders.”
Gonzalez’s scoring attempt resembled something that a player he models his game after is known for. He said that Sergio Ramos is a player he looks up to because he “is a perfect player, he can do everything. He is strong, he is a winner, he is good in the air, he is good going forward and I try to take things from his game.”
Atlanta has certainly looked impressive in their past two games. While four players are off on international duty, the team will prepare for a trip to Seattle that should be a real test early in the season.