The pollen notwithstanding, Atlanta United’s Tuesday training session at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground was held in absolutely beautiful conditions. The squad was later than normal coming out of the building, but they were quick to dive into a handful of drills under a breezy, cloudless Georgia sky.
The 2-1 opening day win over San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday was a massive way to start the season, especially because of the highlight reel manner in which it happened. Thiago Almada’s stoppage time brace has had the entire city on a new set of vibes, and he was still buzzing across the training pitch Tuesday.
The squad broke into a couple of large groups and went through some passing and finishing drills. The first consisted of four small goals set around a large circle, where the attacking squad had to make eight completed passes within that circle before they could turn and take a shot at any of the available goals. Meanwhile, they were being defended heavily and were forced to pass through traffic.
The team then progressed to simple and effective 1v1 drills. With small goals on both sides, a ball was played out to the attacker in a narrow stretch of the pitch and he had to progress past his defender before taking a shot. If the defender caused a turnover, he then had an opportunity to score, as well. Super basic, super effective, and the aforementioned Almada was having a field day.
Finally, the guys migrated over to the sections of the pitch closest to media where they broke off into small-sided scrimmages. They were fast-paced sessions with each lasting a few minutes, and any goals scored in the final thirty seconds counted double. Quentin Westberg was notably very vocal with his side, as were Brooks Lennon and Andrew Gutman. The midst of one of the sessions saw the tempo get a bit frantic, and Thiago Almada could be heard yelling “tranquilo” urging his side to calm things down a tad.
Full training wrapped up and the team slowly worked their way back inside the building, but Franco Ibarra and Miguel Berry hung back to chat with media. Franco Ibarra was first up, coming off a solid opening match where he epitomized the role of a number six destroyer. Much of the conversation consisted of Ibarra referring to the defensive midfielder role as his preferred position, and one that he “grew up playing.” This was a stark contrast to comments made last year by Carlos Bocanegra, who rated Ibarra as more of a number eight, or central midfielder.
The positional nuances aside, Ibarra has consistently had more success in the traditional defensive targeting role. Gonzalo Pineda has referred to him as a “hammer” while he’s even said himself that his gameplay with fellow midfielder Matheus Rossetto consists of them both identifying the opposition player or players that need some extra attention, and then unleashing the young Argentine. In his comments Tuesday, Ibarra commented that “...if Luiz [or another player] gets kicked,” it’s his job to go and essentially handle business.
Franco Ibarra spoke on playing more as a 6, which he said (and I think most people see) is his preferred, natural position. Described it as the position he grew up playing and loves being in midfield to let his team know he’s got their back. Said if Luiz or someone else gets 1/2 pic.twitter.com/NDAuLcd2wp— Scarves and Spikes ⚽ (@ScarvesNSpikes) February 28, 2023
Miguel Berry then took center stage for his first press conference as an Atlanta United player. The Spanish striker noted that despite his incredibly recent move to Atlanta and intro to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, fans would soon come to see what he’d bring to the Five Stripes. He referred to his link-up play and desire to get involved inside the box, while also stating that a strong point of his was being a huge target for crosses. He also said that when he heard the rumor that Atlanta was interested in him, he was incredibly excited because of what Atlanta brings to the table. He mentioned that Atlanta also brings a more familiar play style for him as opposed to what he had at D.C. United.
The Five Stripes will need to get him involved soon, as both Berry and Jackson Conway recorded a grand total of one touch inside the box each on Saturday against San Jose. This isn’t so much of a striker issue as it is a service issue, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Miguel may be the main man in match week two against Toronto.
Berry, an incredibly likable guy, also spoke about how much the 17’s contributed to the late win against San Jose. He said that as the game progressed, the team pushed for the win while the Earthquakes were content with sitting back to try and steal the points. He described the reaction to Almada’s goals, especially the game winner, as an experience he would never forget for the rest of his life. He seemed genuinely awestruck at how absolutely insane the atmosphere inside the Benz is, and he said he was grateful to have “had the most expensive seat in the house.”
Miguel said that on the final free kick, the team originally had a plan that they threw out and decided to go with a simple concept of blocking the goal keeper’s vision and allowing Almada to work his magic. A veteran of working with outstanding Columbus free kick taker Lucas Zelarayan, Berry said that he’d watched so many goals from that angle that he knew the goal was incoming the moment it left Almada’s foot. The rest was history.
Berry was also thankful to the club for so much already, including the unsung heroes helping him move to Atlanta from D.C., the club’s facilities (including the food staff), and the fans and players for helping him integrate so quickly. He described that first match day experience as unforgettable, from the initial march into the stadium where he just tried to follow Miles Robinson in his brand new tuxedo to the wild passion that Atlanta fans showed.
Another player that genuinely wants to be involved in the ever-unfolding story that is Atlanta United is always welcome, and hopefully Pineda and co. can pinpoint a way to get that number 9 position more involved in the play.
First, @MiguelBerry92 just a super nice dude. He spoke about how fans will soon see his link-up play and how he wants/feeds off interchange in the box and crosses. In regards to the quick trade he said there was rumor of which team was looking at him and was excited.. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/5FDVRVU2WG— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) February 28, 2023
The Five Stripes return to action Saturday at 7:30 against Toronto inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and they may be missing their main man Lorenzo Insigne. Both Franco Ibarra and Miguel Berry will likely see time once again, and they’ll be crucial in pulling Atlanta United to another win.