First off, the big news from Thursday is obviously the exclusion of Greg Garza from the traveling roster to Portland. Rob Usry has already touched on it here but Garza had this to say about his injury:
“Coming back from hip surgery I think it’s best if I go ahead and take this week off. Unfortunately, I’m feeling a few pinches but nothing out of the ordinary. Just trying to get fit for the next game. It’s tough to not take trips like this. You want to play every game, but it’s a long season so I think it’s just best for me to rest the hip up best I can and hopefully be 100% for the next game.”
Mark Bloom and Mikey Ambrose are the most likely options to fill in at the right back position, but neither Garza or Tata indicated who would fill in against Portland, and it may very well be a game time decision.
Meanwhile, Tata, Garza, and Julian Gressel talked to the press Thursday evening about getting back to basics, forgetting the last two games (I used bourbon) and preparing for Portland.
Josef Martinez continues to recover from his quad injury from what feels like six months ago. Tata says that the length of Josef’s recovery means that the Five Stripes are going to take their time easing him back into the starting eleven. When he does return, it doesn’t sound like he’ll have to fight for his spot at the top of the formation. (-Ed. Note: As you’d expect with a guy who was leading the league in goals when he went down)
“We’re going to be careful monitoring Josef’s return because it was a long term injury. It will probably be a progression to get him back into the lineup,” Martino said through an interpreter. “One thing that’s characteristic of how we like to play is I want to play with one striker. When Josef gets back he’ll likely be the starter unless there’s a different circumstance depending on the game where I go with two forwards.”
Atlanta has been less than stellar without Martinez, and its worst two games of the year have come in the last two weeks with the team in dire need of a spark up top. Tata says that while the performances against D.C. United and NYCFC were bad, they were bad in their own special way.
“The two defeats are different. The only common factor is that we lost two games. They were for different reasons,” Martino said. “The game against D.C. I thought we played a great 25 minutes but we made our own mistakes that ended up costing us. In New York we were just outplayed.”
The loss of Garza certainly won’t make things easier for the Five Stripes against a team that Tata says is one of the best in the league at finding the back of the net. Even with the possible absence of Darlington Nagbe, Martino believes that Portland’s attack will give Atlanta all they can handle.
“We’re playing against one of the top teams in the league with one of the best attacking quartets in the league if they’re healthy so we’ll have to take our own measures to watch those four and we’ll have to be very precise in our own attacking movements to make sure we’re putting them under pressure the whole game as well,” Martino said. “They are all great players. If Nagbe doesn’t play they have [Dairon] Asprilla and [Darren] Mattocks who are very capable substitutes and will play at high level.”
Much of the discussion from the players and coaches centered around executing in the same style of the first three games of the season. A tactics session delayed practice by over an hour yesterday, and Tata says the focus of training this week is to fix what was broken over the last two games.
“That’s something that we’ve been working on this week by looking at images and videos of the games,” Martino said. “It’s true in the last two games that we’ve kind of gotten from how we want to play. That’s what we were focusing on this week is how to get back to that and focusing on this weekend.
Despite having to stay home this weekend, Garza was still able to offer insight as to what his replacement will have to deal with attacking-wise from Portland. For him, Nagbe is the engine that makes the Timbers’ attack go.
“Portland have a lot of speedy players. You have a guy that for me is one of the best players in the league in Darlington Nagbe. He can create a lot for you in the middle or if he’s playing out wide. He’s a guy that can create for you anywhere. He’s probably the key guy to pay attention to,” Garza said. “I know also there wide players are pretty fast on the flanks and they have Valeri up top. They have some pretty good players that can game change. I think if you can break down their defense as much as possible with the technique and ability we have I think we can do some damage but we have to take care of those players that can change the game in a very short time.”
If the Five Stripes can slow down that Portland attack and leave with three points, Garza says that the confidence of Atlanta’s first few games will return.
“We need a confidence booster. Hopefully that can be this game,” Garza said. “You go through these long seasons and you go through slumps like any other sport. Obviously, we need to put it behind us and think about these next couple of games if we want to be in a playoff position.”
For Garza, Sunday’s game isn’t do or die for a team that’s still gelling. A win in Portland would however be a step in the right direction for a team that holds itself to lofty standards.
“At the end of the day, this is a team that’s been together for three or four months. It’s a process in the end, but we need to make for ourselves. If we want to make some big things happen in this league we have to start making positive results,” Garza said.
The young midfielder dove further into what exactly has gone wrong for Atlanta in the last two games, echoing Tata’s sentiment that the team had gotten too far from its roots.
“We tried to analyze it yesterday. We had a pretty long video session to try and analyze what we did wrong and what we have to differently to stay true to our identity,” Gressel said. “We went away from that philosophy and I think that kind of caused the defeats. It’s more about coming back to what we did well the first two weeks of the season where I think we showed more of what we want to be.”
Gressel says that the restoration of that identity will come when Atlanta when the movement of the ball picks up and the long balls stop.
“Our identity is just a little confused and we haven’t trusted in it the last few weeks. We want to keep it on the ground, try to play it out the back even though we know mistakes are going to happen,” Gressel said. “It’s a combination of precise passing and of moving off the ball that has to happen in the midfield and up front. The second, third, fourth option needs to be there. If Alec plays out the back we have to move in the midfield, the forwards have to move. It’s just all being on the same page and then executing.”