Nothing about being outdoors on a humid, rainy day in Atlanta sounds appealing, especially if it involves any form of physical activity. Add lightning to the mix and you may as well stay inside and try again tomorrow. Atlanta United’s first team did just that Thursday morning, opting to focus on indoor workouts and tactics discussions as wave after wave of rain and storms blew over Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. Only Gonzalo Pineda, George Campbell, and Juanjo Purata emerged after the storms to chat with media about the state of the team and the prep for L.A. Galaxy.
The 2’s? Not so fortunate.
The young team emerged after the lightning had passed and they dove into some 4-goal drills and matches. They’re looking to put last weekend’s 5-0 loss against San Antonio behind them as they prepare for this weekend’s game against another USL juggernaut in the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who haven’t lost a match since April 30th. Despite the prior result and the dreary weather, though, the 2’s had a bit of pep during their training session as big news for the day arrived early. Ajani Fortune was signed to a homegrown contract effective starting in 2023, marking 15 total homegrown players in Atlanta United’s short history. Fortune will be looking to fill a Robbie Mertz-sized hole in the midfield as the latter was recently traded to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The 2's hit the pitch today after the bad storms passed. They'll be looking to Saturday to hand the TB Rowdies their 1st loss since April 30th.— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 21, 2022
Look at the flowing locks of @jacksonconway36 All he needs is a claymore and shouts of "freedom."@ATLUTD2 #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer pic.twitter.com/8t3VrYH4KN
Meanwhile, Pineda, Purata, and Campbell all took time to speak after the first team finished their indoor training sessions. This marked the first time Purata was able to convey his thoughts on his game-tying header in the match against Orlando City. He specifically took pride in his aerial ability, both offensively and defensively, when asked about Dom Dwyer’s recent comments stating that the goal definitely wouldn’t be the last fans saw from the Mexican newcomer. He also credited the entire team for the work that led to the goal, “I’ve always said goals are due to the team, that game it was just my turn to get a goal.”
@JuanjoPurata14 “I like the style of play here…off the field (the transition to Atlanta) is going well.”— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 21, 2022
On back line communication: “Even though we’ve given up goals they’re small mistakes we can correct.”
Mentions he’s excited to face Chicharito.#ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer pic.twitter.com/VANcBazRox
Purata also addressed the defensive capability of the back line, mentioning that they’ve had mistakes that can be addressed and corrected. Since Juanjo’s arrival, the initial impression has been that both his presence and the switch to a three center back formation has benefitted Atlanta United as a whole. That was reaffirmed by George Campbell, who also praised Purata’s communication and strength, adding that the center back corps is now allowed to be more aggressive. The young homegrown defender also stated the Five Stripes have to “show more consistently” every single match that the team “is back,” echoing statements made by Pineda after the past week’s home matches.
George Campbell - “We need to show more consistently…” in reference to the question “If the team is ‘back’.”— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 21, 2022
“Purata talks a lot…is strong. Adding the extra CB allows us to be more aggressive.”#ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer pic.twitter.com/bY3f61N6JH
Pineda ultimately took the stand, coffee cup in hand (the debate ensues, but I swear it’s café con leche) to finish off the day. Much of the conversation revolved around preparation for the weekend match against L.A. Galaxy where the gaffer mentioned his good relationship with fellow Mexican Chicharito. Pineda recalled being onsite during the striker’s debut and joked that he never tackled Chicharito because he could never catch him. This specifically brought up the point that despite the Galaxy’s lack of recent form, he’s preparing his squad as if they’re playing a full-strength Los Angeles team.
@GonzoPineda8— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 21, 2022
“The chemistry of the team is better now”
On Purata: “Purata’s leadership shows up in every drill.”
Mentioned they’re good friends but he couldn’t catch Chicharito to tackle him. #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer pic.twitter.com/iVcBNuJoB2
Notably, Pineda mentioned that the coaching staff were about to go chat about whether Andrew Gutman would be making the trip to L.A., lending hope that the wingback is progressing well after he was seen training earlier in the week. Regardless of when Atlanta’s left-wing workhorse returns to the squad, he’ll be stepping into a much different style than was being played when he left. Gutman tended to be very defensive oriented in the prior 4-back system, but he made some very significant runs into the attack early in the season. I asked Pineda specifically about how he’s getting his wingbacks like Wiley and McFadden more involved in the attack, and he gave credit to his 3 center backs plus a defensive midfielder being sufficient to stop a counter. This, of course, allows the wings to focus on the attack and not be as concerned about falling back in certain moments. He stated that prior to the switch, he encouraged only one of the two sides to play forward so as not to leave the back exposed, so it'll be curious to see how Gutman’s eventual return plays into this minor, yet significant, formational tweak.
One final, noteworthy point made by Gonzalo addressed the team’s efforts in trying to make aggressive runs in behind. He clearly wants to see more of those attacks, even stating that he’s told every one of his attacking players to make those runs while driving home the point that the midfield needs to be watching for the attacker’s visual cues. Atlanta has looked extremely dangerous in moments where Josef Martinez, Ronaldo Cisneros, Luiz Araujo, or Caleb Wiley can push a defender out of their pocket and create just a bit of space, as the team has some incredible talent (Moreno and Almada) that can put the ball on a dime. The final 30 minutes of the match against Orlando is a prime example, as Atlanta banged on the door and completely turned the match on its head. Against an L.A. Galaxy team playing at home and wanting to right the ship, the Five Stripes may just have an extra bit of space to exploit this style in the exact same manner.
Atlanta United hits the pitch late on Sunday evening, with a 9:55 Eastern kickoff against Chicharito and company. Does Pineda continue with a similar lineup, and does Josef find himself back in the starting XI? As usual, we’d love to check out your comments below, and be sure to tune in to our late night Twitter Spaces show as soon as the final whistle sounds. Bring plenty of coffee.