The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training ground was buzzing with activity Tuesday morning. Between special guests, a slight alteration in training, and the beautiful weather, the facility seemed to be a tad more eventful as Atlanta United prepares to travel to BMO Field this weekend.
The source of considerable amount of the activity could be narrowed down to the presence of one Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons defensive end. He arrived at the training ground to take a tour, chat with the Academy teams, view training, meet members of the club, and otherwise bridge the gap between two organizations who share an owner and play at the same wonderful stadium.
The man was an imposing presence, as Matheus Rossetto rightfully pointed out later in the day when he spoke with the media.
“He’s really big and strong,” the Brazilian midfielder noted, laughing, when asked if he spoke with Jarrett during the visit. “I was kinda scared to talk to him.”
“A good way to spend my Tuesday morning,” Jarrett described the visit during his media availability. He took time to speak to reporters about his chat with the younger teams, chronicling his journey into professional football and the challenges he overcame in the early years of his career. “Never giving up” was the theme of those conversations because, as Grady mentioned, he wasn’t the highest draft pick or the most “sought-after” prospect, but he took the chances he was given, performed the hard work, and pushed his way to the top.
The longstanding Atlanta Falcon also described meeting Brad Guzan, whose MCL injury had just been reported, and pointed out the sheer physicality and intensity of the training that soccer players experience. He proceeded to give some Falcons-specific answers to media questions before swapping jerseys with Miles Robinson.
Cool moment between teams as @GradyJarrett came out to @ATLUTD training ground to chat with the younger guys, tell his story of how he kept pushing for his chance, meet some of the team, & tour the facility. Gave a shout to @bguzan as they got to meet today @AtlantaFalcons pic.twitter.com/cz3Y6foIhJ— ⚽️Scarves and Spikes LIVE 4/12, 7p ET (@ScarvesNSpikes) April 11, 2023
The actual training that Gonzalo Pineda reserved for Tuesday’s session was also a bit more nuanced. Specifically, it was more tactical in nature and he kindly asked that media doesn’t report on the finer points of how they were preparing for Toronto. In short, creativity in the final third and build-up play were topics of the day, and polishing up certain mistakes was key.
The club also noted that Thiago Almada and Franco Ibarra were being given an extra rest day on Tuesday, as a precaution for discomfort they experienced Saturday.
Almada and Ibarra both being given a precautionary rest day today. #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA pic.twitter.com/DqfKlKLwWv— ⚽️Scarves and Spikes LIVE 4/12, 7p ET (@ScarvesNSpikes) April 11, 2023
On the topic of injuries, the comments Pineda said Saturday night after the NYCFC match ring true in the opening days of the week as Guzan’s injury comes to light. While it wasn’t a huge topic for the day, the sense of frustration regarding how referees protect (or don’t, rather) goalkeepers was palpable. Amar Sejdic gently made his opinions known, pointing out that at times the team feels as if they’re treated unfairly. They use that, however, to create an us-against-the-world mentality as the club tries to gain the respect that Pineda referred to after the last match.
The team prepping for a midfield without @Francoibarra01 against Toronto, @amarsejdic1 spoke about trying to enhance the good traits of those he plays with. Whether it was a pairing of him, Rossetto, Sosa, or Fortune, the players are intelligent enough to fill that… 1/2 #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/xm7CyME1xA— ⚽️Scarves and Spikes LIVE 4/12, 7p ET (@ScarvesNSpikes) April 11, 2023
Sejdic also pointed out his focus in midfield during matches was to try and elevate the traits of the players around him. He provided details of how they trained for the NYCFC match and how his movements there differed from normal, considering the size restraints, and noted that BMO field against Toronto would allow Almada and him or Rossetto plenty more room to operate. Sejdic also pointed out that regardless of who takes the suspended Franco Ibarra’s spot as the 6 on Saturday, the players are intelligent enough and understand their roles so he’s confident no issues will arise. The team, he said, is looking to go steal the points back from Toronto after feeling they left some on the table at the last match.
Matheus Rossetto then took the podium to chat about the similar issues, stating he was comfortable and confident playing the number 6 if required. The decision is up to Pineda, he said, but he noted that he had played as a more strict defensive midfielder in his career, instead of a box-to-box midfielder.
Lots of questions about a midfield pairing going into Toronto this morning, and Rossetto pointing out that without @Francoibarra01 he’s comfortable playing as a 6 if needed because he’s played it before. Said he’s confident in whatever pairing @GonzoPineda8 chooses. 1/2 #ATLUTD pic.twitter.com/Ps5sQBrIeq— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) April 11, 2023
Rossetto also mentioned that he’s good to go in terms of fitness, and his leg is better after the few weeks he either missed or was used as a late sub after his prior injury.
On paper, this leaves the decision most likely to use either Rossetto or Sejdic in their traditional number 8 spot with Santiago Sosa taking over in place of Ibarra in his preferred defensive role. However, with Toronto’s use of talented midfielders, don’t be surprised if Pineda tries to shore up the midfield by using some combination of the three, especially if the Five Stripes are ahead later in the match.
Ultimately, if Atlanta United can take the match to BMO Field in a similar way they handled Toronto at home, they can definitely return with three points. They utterly dominated Toronto then, with the lone goal coming from a press miscue and a slight deflection. The team now has better chemistry with their goalscorer up top in Giakoumakis, and are consistently looking more threatening in the final third. A win at BMO Field Saturday would already tie the club’s 2022 away record of 2 wins, so there’s significance here in terms of momentum.
Be sure to tune in Saturday at 7 for coverage of the match on Apple TV, and leave your thoughts and comments below!