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Atlanta United Training Day with Brooks Lennon and Amar Sejdic

The Five Stripes head back to the lab before their first road match of 2023

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I often wonder if Giorgos Giakoumakis has ever dealt with pollen? What a way to be introduced to the southern United States.

Anyway, every person in Georgia is dealing with the “yellow evil” and unfortunately Arthur Blank’s deep pockets still haven’t been able to provide a solution to put a bubble around the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. The pollen, however, was the only downside to the weather Tuesday as Atlanta United players trickled out onto the training pitch. Notably, three of those players exiting the building rounded out what looks to be the entire Atlanta United first team who’ve been out for some amount of time, Machop Chol, Tyler Wolff, and Ozzie Alonso. Ozzie ran and trained off to the side with trainers, but Chol and Wolff dove right into the main sessions.

The team is looking to bounce back from what Brooks Lennon referred to as “dropping two points” against a Toronto team who had their backs against the wall for most of last Saturday’s match. The first road game against I-85 neighbors Charlotte F.C. is fast approaching, and Atlanta is hoping to turn all the things that went well against Toronto into goals and wins.

The little aspects of that match that didn’t quite go to plan, mainly finishing and polishing up the final third, were the subject of the training sessions on Tuesday. In fact, Gonzalo Pineda took a moment to come chat with the media on site prior to the start of the various drills to explain how each one would progress and benefit the team. It was an unexpected and generous moment as he ran up to share the info, and it provided context for the rest of the morning as the media watched.

Three main drills were prepared. One was to both attack and defend with numerical superiority and to play the ball forward to those players making the runs in behind, with two small goals prepared on each end. While the finer points of the drill weren’t super clear, the concept essentially involved two teams with four players set as neutrals.

Another drill involved playing the ball forward to what was affectionately referred to as “the end zone.” The core of the drill was very simple; move the ball up the pitch and play in the runners trying to arrive in the “end zone”, but obviously this meant playing through traffic. Pineda could be heard loudly encouraging the team to “reward the runners,” while explaining that the players willing to make those runs forward “need to be passed the ball.”Out of the three sessions this one was probably the most difficult for media to focus on because of where it was located on the pitch, but it provided a distinct glance into what Pineda is trying to highly encourage in the squad while being the proper set-up for the final drill.

A small pitch was taped off and lines were drawn from around each post on each goal diagonally out to approximately 13 up the touchline. This created four triangles, one on each corner of the pitch. These were meant to count as the primary assist zones, and any goal coming off an assist from within those four corner triangles counted double.

The ensuing match was hectic, chaotic, and fast-paced. Almada scored what would’ve been another goal of the week and his team ultimately won (by my count) 3-0. The wingers were especially involved in feasting from those corners, with cross after cross being sent in by the likes of Brooks Lennon, Ronald Hernandez, Andrew Gutman, Machop Chol, Derrick Etienne, and others. Don’t expect this sort of idea to go away; it’s very clear Pineda is trying to fine tune the accuracy of crosses and passes into the box while encouraging the forward runs of various players into those locations.

Once the drills were done, media was joined by Brooks Lennon and Amar Sejdic. Brooks led off and chatted about how the team wants to shake off last season’s struggles on the road by heading up to Charlotte to net a full three points. The importance of grasping an even just a few more road points this season can’t be understated, as the Five Stripes only had two away wins in 2022. He also pointed out that in addition to working on his strengths like off-the-ball runs and getting in behind, he’s focusing on being a more problematic attacker for defenders in the box, as well. Lennon indicated his goal scored in the AmFam Cup as a prime example of another way in which he needs to get involved in the attack.

Amar Sejdic then took the podium and gave a bit of insight into his limited playing time thus far this season. He pointed to the chemistry being developed amongst the squad, something that was relatively tough to see last season due to the inability to field a similar starting XI for the majority of the year. He mentioned the midfielders and wingers especially, and knowing where they’ll be on the pitch without requiring as much thought.

Sejdic also spoke about his desire to come into these first two matches as a late sub to try and impact the game as much as possible, and anyone who paid attention in the San Jose match could see the different dynamic he brought. Those options at midfield are going to prove crucial for Pineda as the season wears on because each player brings a different flair coupled with an overall understanding of what the coaching staff wants.

The conversation of Sejdic’s overall health was brought up, as well, since he’s missed time throughout the preseason due to an injury. He revealed that he’d broken a toe but importantly said that the healing process went well. Expect to see him slowly work back to more and more minutes as the early portion of the season wears on.

For what it’s worth, the new process of being able to watch training early in the week has provided a greater insight into both the players and the coaching staff, and it’s truly appreciated. The inner-workings of the training ground is something the fans have mentioned they want to see, and Atlanta United seems to be diving headfirst into allowing reasonable access for media to provide that “extra glance.” Kudos.

Now, about that pollen.