Atlanta United, the team that scored roughly a bajillion league goals (actual number: 198) in its first three seasons, was somehow the only team that failed to find the back of the net at MLS is Back in Orlando.
After the final nail in the coffin — a 1-0 loss to Columbus Crew that sent the Five Stripes packing — goalkeeper Brad Guzan said after the match: “There’s no magic answer. We have to get back on the training pitch. We have to work harder. At the same time, we need to have some real conversations. Some real conversations, because this is not something that just happened.”
Fast forward 26 days and a new manager later, Guzan is happy with the way things are going as the team has returned to training under Stephen Glass. And it’s largely down to those conversations.
“It was obvious to everybody watching that there wasn’t a cohesiveness about us. There wasn’t a ‘This is what we’re doing. This is how we’re going to attack. This is how we’re going to exploit them.’ There wasn’t any of that feeling during the time in Orlando,” Guzan said in a video conference with media Monday.
“Over the last three weeks, the amount of work being put in from the staff, from the players, from us as a group together, collectively, has been tremendous. From video before trainings to little conversations during training, before training, after training. Having these conversations talking about plays that happen in scrimmages, plays that happen in certain exercises. Understanding how we’re wanting to deal with certain things that happen on the field. These are all good things in my eyes. These are all conversations that need to be had.”
And Guzan said the value of having these conversations isn’t solely for the players. Since taking over, Glass has met with every player on Atlanta United’s roster to talk one-on-one about what they were feeling individually and how they felt the team could improve.
“The conversations were very good, from a player’s standpoint, to speak to him and kind of give him insight into how we felt as a group,” Guzan said. “With that being said, I’m sure they’re beneficial for him in terms of understanding where guys are individually. It was no secret to see the performances we put together down in Orlando that it wasn’t good enough. So him then being named interim manager... The managerial position at Atlanta United is a massive job in terms of what it entails. The city you represent, the club you represent, the bar that we have set for ourselves as a club. So [the conversations] was him doing his due diligence in trying to make sure we can get off to a good start.”
It’s a type of communication that Guzan stopped short of describing as non-existent under Frank de Boer’s management, but said they simply didn’t happen to the same extent. Guzan is confident that the new lines of communication is helping the team gel on the pitch, and he hopes the team can return to a philosophy that fans, players, and everyone else who’s watched this team since its inception will understand.
“When you look at what Atlanta United is, and what we’ve become over the course of a few years, people think of Atlanta United as this attacking team, exciting team,” said Guzan. “That’s what we want to be as players. So now I think Glassy and his staff, they’re now giving the freedom and responsibility to the players to go and express themselves and be forward-thinking players. Be positive-playing players... To be on the front foot. To play the ball forward. To have players in attacking positions. To have players that are open to pass the ball forward to. We want to get back to that. We want to get back to scoring goals. We want to get back to being exciting, to being a threat, and to making it a scary thing when teams see that they’re playing Atlanta United.”