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Don’t fret the friendlies

or: How I learned to stop worrying and love The Preseason


As you may or may not have heard by now Atlanta United lost 3-0 twice in a single day in Guadalajara Sunday after a week’s worth of training and against teams in which Atlanta has more than enough talent to easily handle.

With all of us foaming at the mouth to see the team we love back on the field and tearing teams apart en route to dominant victories, seeing Atlanta lose handily in winnable games seems like a huge letdown. But it’s really not. It’s nothing to be concerned about.

It would not be correct to say that the players or Gonzalo Pineda do not care at all about whether they win or lose these games — they are competitors at heart. But the honest truth is that teams in preseason do not prepare for a friendly as they would for a game that counts. I’m sure this is obvious to almost everyone, but it’s really worth hammering home after a day when you lose 6-0 on aggregate in two matches.

Let’s go through what might happen in a typical week midseason with weekend matches. Players would have a day off after a game (let’s call this Sunday after a Saturday match). Then on Monday, they might come in only for some treatment, light gym work (just enough weight for joints to mobilize under a little bit of load) and watch some film. Players who didn’t play in the game will surely do more on the field to maintain fitness, but overall it’s still a very light day. Tuesday ramps up the intensity on the field, Wednesday and Thursday are more full speed, pure training days. Friday would be a light tactical session supplemented with more film work, but it’s a day for players to train their minds more than their bodies in preparation for the match the following day.

Compare that to what Atlanta United players have experienced this week: TWO-A-DAYS (albeit, with water... Argentine Bear Bryant isn’t here anymore). Maybe the team only did one full-speed training session before Sunday’s match, what a relief! The point is that the purpose of preseason training is not very comparable to the purpose of a regular season training week. While in the regular season, the team is preparing for this finite moment against against an opponent where the only thing that matters is securing a result, preseason is about preparing players for that preparation. Meaning, it’s about fitness. This is a boot camp, and the players are not being trained with an intent on beating the Chivas reserves.

Make no mistake, friendlies are a vital part of preseason — it’s just that the result doesn’t matter. Like the training sessions, these matches are opportunities for players to build their own fitness levels by moving their bodies in game-like conditions. This is vitally important because while drills and small sided competitions can build the on-field relationships between players, those players also need to be able to utilize their relationships for the entirety of the 90 minutes, if needed. Systematically building that fitness up in match-like conditions is the only way to accomplish this. In fact, Nashville head coach Gary Smith seems to be going so far as to implementing a form of progressive OVERLOAD of match-minutes:

And on the flip side of being on the wrong end of lopsided preseason results, look what happened in 2019 before the team struggled mightily in the attack to start the 2019 season.

The Sounders won MLS Cup. So don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the fact that a preseason game means we are just one day closer to the start of the season. Less than two weeks until the Five Stripes take the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.