Atlanta United players poured out onto the pitch at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Tuesday morning as they looked to shake off an abrasive prior week against Nashville and Memphis 901. A quick tunnel celebration was set up for a couple of players - Quentin Westberg returned to training while Brooks Lennon commemorated his 100th match with the club - and guys rapidly dove into the day’s session. Warm-ups began under a beautiful, sunny sky, and the team was accompanied by a surprisingly stout extra player - the brisk, gusty wind.
Gonzalo Pineda approached the media to explain the day’s drills and how the team would push forward after the heavy load they’d experienced during the first true fixture congestion of 2023. He noted that the physical exertion would be lighter in training and gave a quick update on some of the players who were nursing injuries or knocks.
Ozzie Alonso is stepping up his load in training, and participated in some of the team activities for the day. Giorgos Giakoumakis was still training indoors, and Carlos Bocanegra later described him as likely questionable for the weekend. He was seen outdoors jogging lightly on the pitch, though, as was Brad Guzan.
Rondo’s this morning, but can’t pass to the same player to encourage looking for options. Also a possession drill, 3v3 with 6 neutral on the outside to encourage opening lanes, quick movement, etc. Also got a small-sided tourney in the cards today. #ATLUTD #WeAreTheA pic.twitter.com/XBa5rZdHAd— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) May 2, 2023
Pineda described the first drill as a simple rondo, but with a caveat - the ball can’t be played back to the same player who made the pass. He said he wants the players focusing on a variety of passing options since it was something that was lacking against Nashville. He then outlined the second drill as one the media has already watched this season. It’s a 3 vs 3 surrounded by 6 neutral players, and each team is trying to play the ball through the defense. The focused session also forces quick turnovers and decision-making, along with more precise passing overall.
Finally, Pineda pointed to a couple of small-side pitches, explaining they would host a tournament amongst the team near the end of practice. That tournament actually began, however, around the time technical director Carlos Bocanegra arrived for a media scrum to speak about the club ‘s progress since around October.
Quick points from @BocaBoca3 .— ⚽️Scarves and Spikes LIVE 5/3, 7p ET (@ScarvesNSpikes) May 2, 2023
- Can’t speak on individual offers but with what Almada & Wiley have been doing “you can imagine the interest.”
- Goal is winning a cup/wants Almada to be a part of that.
- Had a plan from October with transfers & the club is trending well 1/2 pic.twitter.com/dZdxnn1prk
Bocanegra began with a “state of the club,” describing that the team had a plan in place going back to October in terms of what the focus would be going into 2023. He praised the efforts to implement that plan, including the various recent signings, Brad and Miles’ return, and the team’s current place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’ve been able to keep a little more consistency and we’ll build on that.”
Bocanegra said that the club wouldn't comment on individual contract offers when asked about players like Thiago Almada, but he praised the young Argentine and Caleb Wiley. “You can imagine the interest he’s generating,” Carlos said of Atlanta’s breakout homegrown player. He then echoed the same sentiment a few moments later about Almada specifically, pointing out that the club is approaching any trade with the mindset of “when it’s best for all parties.”
“We’d love to win a championship this year and would really love Thiago to be a part of it.”
He also noted that Miles Robinson is often seen as “a face of Atlanta,” and pointed out how hard the roster building rules are in terms of what the club can offer. He said they’ve put the best possible offer on the table, however.
When asked about allocation money and funds for the summer transfer window, Bocanegra described the changes the club made going into last season to free up space. Marcelino Moreno and Edwin Mosquera both have options on their loans, and the movement of other players created enough room for the front office to definitively make potential transactions in the coming window.
The topic of Luiz Araujo’s form was also surfaced.
“I think he started really hot. I would say recently, and the player would probably tell you himself, he’s not performing at his best level that we all know he can do. We’ve seen the flashes and some good runs from him. He’s a good player, and the more he gets confident and the more we can get him going this season...preseason he was fantastic.”
He described Araujo’s presence as a leader on the field, in the locker room, and all across the club.
“We’re happy with him, you go through these spells as a player.”
The topic then shifted more to technical roster building rules, and how the team would eventually cope with the transfer of Almada compared to Garth Lagerway’s previous comments about focusing more on established players as DP’s. Carlos stated they have strategies in place and want to have a good mix of those steadfast designated players alongside some up-and-coming talent. Atlanta United doesn’t want to exit the transfer market environment and he said they still want their players to have resell value.
The backup striker position was something to be “evaluated,” as well, Bocanegra said. “The DP’s in this league are so important. It’s hard to have a similar or like-for-like person at each position, especially with the categories and roster designations we have in this league. Can we get some more out of our other guys playing that position? Yeah, we hope so.”
“The players we have with the price tags they have, they come in with very high expectations. If they don’t knock it out of the park every time, people might look at it like a bust,” he also said about some of the prior DP transfers like Barco and Pity before wrapping up the media scrum. “It’s not going to change our way of thinking because we have a process that we go through. We’ve had some pretty effective DP’s that have come through.”
After Bocanegra’s comments, Matheus Rossetto also took the podium to speak about the previous match against Nashville.
Rossetto in this morning’s media scrum:— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) May 2, 2023
- Said the midfield has small mistakes to fix.
- Team doesn’t necessarily change ideas when GG is on or off, but said GG is just in great form.
- Excited to see Josef again, was very close to him and “we’ll speak some Portuguese” pic.twitter.com/9yw2lERIyw
“I think it’s about being focused, paying attention to the little details...” he said about the midfield pairings over the past few matches. He mentioned that he felt they played well against Nashville, but that Nashville also had a very good game.
The chat then switched momentarily to playing Josef Martinez’s Inter Miami this weekend. “He’s a player here who I always had a good relationship with,” Rossetto laughed. “We’ll laugh like we always do and speak some Portuguese.”
In reference to the penalty he won against Nashville, he said he was trying to turn and the player clipped his ankle. “I think if he hadn’t I would’ve had an opportunity.”
Finally, he was asked about his relationship with Luiz Araujo and the conversations he’s had to help build his confidence. “The conversations I have with Luiz are similar to the conversations I have with other players. But maybe a little bit more because we’re both from Brazil and we speak a lot. He has the confidence of myself, all the players, and the coaching staff. Right now it’s important for him to get that next goal and when he does, we know he’s a player who can score a lot of goals.”
The Five Stripes continue training through the week before flying down to South Florida to face Inter Miami this weekend. It’ll be the first time Atlanta has played against Josef Martinez since he left the club earlier this year.