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Four Things to Know About Atlanta United This Week

Miles Robinson, training, youth talent, and Miles Robinson

SOCCER: SEP 05 USA v Canada
Man is a machine
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 World Cup qualifying break is over and we’re only a few hours away from Gonzalo Pineda’s second match in charge of the Five Stripes. Josef’s children from Florida won’t make it easy, so we’ll be relying on a Brazilian uncle, an Argentine stepdad, and a Mandalorian to school Orlando City FC. All eyes, however, will be on the new coach to see how his training has been implemented and whether the new tactics will propel Atlanta United up the standings. I’ll say this, though: based on everything going on around the club since the start of the international break, I think we’ll see a vastly different team on the pitch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium tonight. Whether that produces a result is up in the air, but the amount of optimism coming from the players and the club is infectious. We have the media team putting out content after what seemed like a blackout for months, players are smiling every time we see them, and at least one of the players just upped his value by at least a couple of million on the international stage.

Speaking of the international stage, the saga of Miles Robinson is definitely the most newsworthy Five Stripes tidbit from this past seven days. Let’s dive into the four things to know about Atlanta United this week.

  1. The Miles Robinson Show

270 minutes of United States Men’s National Team games were played in the past week and a half, and Miles Robinson was in every one of them. The Atlanta defender has ascended to the next level of machine, and I would argue he’s made a point as the most consistent player on Berhalter’s squad. Not only was he a stalwart defender, as usual, but he almost broke through into the attack on two separate headers against El Salvador and Canada. He survived a late head injury against Honduras and walked back into the game to finish off the win. MLS also came out with a neat chart detailing the best players in duels for 2021, and guess who sits atop that list?

He’s won 79 duels and only lost 34. That’s impressive. Robinson’s natural athletic talent has been well documented, but he put the world on notice during this international window.

That’s an awesome endorsement from someone with a pedigree like Oguchi Onyewu, who was obviously a legendary USMNT defender himself. Plus, the man also got into a fight with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the two were playing for Milan, which gives him instant credibility. The point is clear, though, Miles Robinson’s hard work is becoming more obvious every match, and it’s going to be harder and harder for other clubs to ignore his talent. From a business perspective, Atlanta United is sitting very pretty right now when it comes Mr. Robinson.

2. Gonzalo Pineda’s Training Sessions

The guys look like they’re having fun, and the increased media availability at practice has given a wonderful insight into this team’s mindset. In a way, this all brings me back to the Tata-era in the sense that Tata was strict, but free-flowing. He knew the value of people and having fun, and if watching every sport in the universe has taught me one thing, the team that’s having the most fun is usually the one winning, in that order. Every Atlanta United supporter has seen what this team looks like when they’re not enjoying the game, so it should be more than just a relief when we see Barco, Mando Moreno, Araujo, Walkes, Campbell, Chol, and literally every other player laughing and cutting up.

As you can see, there are three obvious points Pineda is trying to emphasize with his team. The mentality to stay positive and push forward, the competition to sharpen each other, and the tactics to be able to evolve to face the opponent successfully. One great story came from this week during a free kick showdown. Araujo, Barco, Lennon, and a few other players lined up to bend the ball from 10 yards around some standing, metal defenders. Araujo smacked 4 of 8, and I would be more than thrilled if he somehow figured out how to keep that ratio in games. Because of this, he clearly won this most important of competitions (important because Atlanta hasn’t scored off a direct free kick in about two years). Regardless, they had a fun contest and the media was able to view this and some other training sessions because a couple of the days actually ran longer than anticipated.

Pineda has also mentioned how the team has been training in multiple formations over the break. This may be completely under the radar because of the hectic World Cup qualifier break, but information like this is what gets me really excited about the upcoming games.

We saw a glimpse of Pineda’s 4-2-3-1 in the closing minutes against Nashville, and that changed seemed to make a difference. He also seems to be solidifying a back-three formation with his own touches, so it’s clear Gonzo quickly implemented the ability to have tactical changes that can be made if the initial shape doesn’t work. What interests me, though, is the idea of trying a false nine again. It’s definitely possible that the team has the manpower to pull it off now, and if it’s effective we may see it more when Josef is out on international duty again. Most importantly, though, is that the players seem to be migrating to these changes instead of away like we saw with Heinze and FDB. Time will tell.

Also, Brooks Lennon has mentioned he wants to reach double-digit assists and is apparently working on crossing drills with Pineda in practice. I’m all for lofty goals, and I’ll personally make him a mojito if he accomplishes it. You heard me, Brooks, a mojito.

3. George Bello and La Vinotinto

We can’t go through the article and not mention our other three players who spent time away from the club because of their talent. George Bello started the third match for the USMNT in a wingback position, and despite the weird and utter failure of the formation in the first half, Georgie had a solid outing. He got caught in a weird position on Honduras’ initial goal, but it’s hard to blame him for the miss when he should never have had to bear that responsibility in the first place. That’s the only slight stain on an otherwise great 45 minutes, and I’ll be the first to point out he had the United States’ first good look on goal of the night, which he slipped just outside of the far post. Can’t be mad at him for trying, especially when the first half was an absolute disaster from an attacking standpoint.

Josef Martinez and Ronald Hernandez didn’t fare so well with La Vinotinto during this international break. Not that the individual players didn’t play solid games, but the team as a whole just couldn’t get it together. They lost all three of their qualifier matches during the break, including a 2-1 loss to Paraguay on Thursday. The team didn’t do themselves any favors, though, as they had red cards issued in their first two matches. We won’t see Josef back in time to father Orlando City tonight, but after his national team’s thrashing and the prior Nashville loss here in Atlanta, he’s sure to come back with a vengeance.

4. Atlanta United 2 and the Academy

I’ve recently found myself coaching my son’s team this fall, so my appreciation for the academies and home-growns has increased tenfold. Atlanta United has multiple Regional Development Schools throughout metro Atlanta, and they’re essentially a first step in building soccer talent in the area. Since 2020, 15 players from those schools have graduated up to the Atlanta United Academy Program. Seven RDS players will be competing in the Southeastern Clubs Champions League U-12 program, while six others will be with the U-13’s in MLS Next. I wanted to highlight this because it should be celebrated that Atlanta United’s influence in the state is for all ages, not just those of us that watch the first team. Sincere congratulations to the young’uns.

Also, Atlanta United 2 got back in action against Indy Eleven last Saturday in the only real club action of the week. Aiden McFadden scored his seventh goal of the season as the 2’s won the match 1-0 in rainy, slippery conditions. McFadden now sits tied for the club’s single season goal-scoring record. The USL team has had a decent break since then, and get back at it on September 15th.

It’s time to get back to the rowdy and proud ways of supporting the Five Stripes tonight, and I sincerely hope MBS is rocking. While we won’t be seeing Josef, George, or Miles, I did want to mention that Santiago Sosa has been listed as “questionable.” He probably won’t play, but it’s worth noting because it gives at least a bit of clarity from a week ago when no one had any clue how long the team’s main midfield man would be out. Same place, same time next week!