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Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Jeff Larentowicz on preparing for NYCFC

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Who’s Larry?

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In the two matches since Atlanta United got thumped by NYCFC in the Bronx, the team looks reborn. Against Houston and Portland the Five Stripes forgot everything they learned about sharing in kindergarten and were giant ball hogs. The results were a solid road draw against a high scoring Timbers team and a total destruction of the Dynamo. Jeff Larentowicz and Leandro Gonazalez Pirez talked about what has changed in those two short weeks and how Atlanta can avoid a repeat of the disappointing result from their trip to New York.

Neither the Timbers, nor Houston was able to establish a rhythm against United. When they were in possession, the Peachtree Press quickly got the ball back to an Atlanta player’s feet and their counter attacks led to few quality chances. Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz talked about how Atlanta was able to dominate by getting back to basics, saying “In the Portland and in the Houston games it seemed like we got back to our normal game plan of playing out of the back, trying to keep possession early.” The team will need to stick to their identity against New York and will have a sell out home crowd backing them up this time.

As will be mentioned by every article on this website going forward, Atlanta has found success in the last two matches because of the role Larentowicz plays in enabling United to shift their shape throughout the game. Gonzalez Pirez talked about playing with Larentowicz in a deeper role with the team in possession saying the shift “gives better circulation of the ball and the wingbacks are much more effective” going forward. Moving the midfielder back to defense also gives and extra player in defense when they don’t have the ball.

The change is a welcome one as United played poorly against NYCFC following a tough result against DC United when their possession was so ineffective. The Five Stripes are looking to take three points in the match and climb from their 9th place position in the table against NYCFC who currently sits five points above them in third place, though Atlanta has two games in hand on them.

In order to do that Atlanta will look to get the lead and keep it, something Larentowicz mentioned the team needs to improve upon, saying “the one thing we’ve struggled to do is hold onto leads and kill games off.” Portland was a crossbar away from breaking Atlanta’s hearts in the Rose City and Houston, though never really in the game, got better chances as they made late substitutions to try and claw back into the match last week.

LGP discussed how the team needs to approach the game this week saying “we need to play with much more intensity” than last time out against New York. Indeed, in that game and the one before it with DC United defensive lapses turned what may have been ugly draws into big losses. LGP noted that the team’s mentality has improved over the past two matches saying, “against Portland and Houston Dynamo, we played with much more confidence” than last time against New York. United will need both confidence and intensity as David Villa, Jack Harrison, Maxi Moralez, and Rodney Wallace fly into town.

Adding to the challenge of facing Villa, the player with the most goals in MLS since the start of 2015, is that Tata Martino will be suspended for the match. While the call sending Martino to the stands this week may have made the ref look like he had his head (how should I put this?) in the digestive tract of a large farm animal, Larentowicz was a lot more diplomatic and compassionate toward what Eduardo Galeano called the árbitro. The MLS veteran said that “refereeing is a dubious thing whatever league you’re in and here in the U.S. you just have to expect anything, I think that the refs do a good job.” In discussing their coach being gone for the game, LGP noted that it would be different but was optimistic as ever saying, “it’s weird, it will be the first game he won’t be there, but we’re going to try to make his absence not affect us on the field.”

Other notes:

  • Jeff Larentowicz has never been called Larry before. Maybe Atlanta fans miss Chipper Jones, or perhaps the age of Twitter doesn’t allow the precious characters that have many shortening his name on social media.
  • Larry also played his 316th game in MLS last weekend moving him to 9th all time. He says his new goal is to play in 400 games which would put him second all time behind the still playing Kyle Beckerman.
  • My Spanish is super rusty, thanks to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez for letting me subject him to my interesting Gringo dialect.