The thick, muggy heat of summer in Georgia is in full force, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground was simply sweltering on Friday morning.
Atlanta United is preparing for one last regular season match before MLS goes on a short hiatus to make way for the Leagues Cup, and they have a familiar foe in front of them. Orlando City will visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday night, and the Five Stripes will be looking for a win and a vital three points that could push them as high as 4th in the Eastern Conference going into the break.
Friday’s session was not a full training event open to the media, though the day’s obvious theme was primarily getting guys recovered and rested. Saturday’s match will be the third in seven days, so plenty of stretching, tactics, and light exercise rounded out the agenda for Gonzalo Pineda’s squad.
Tyler Wolff and Pineda provided quick updates on the team before Saturday’s match, with the main topics consisting of the aforementioned recovery, and the formational nuances and tactics involved with the three center back system that’s been employed recently.
Wolff noted that the squad had gone through plenty of recovery sessions, with some guys obviously making quicker progress than others. He stated that he was prepared to play as long as required Saturday as he looks to impact the match in a way similar to his performance against Orlando at Exploria Stadium on May 27th where he netted the tying goal.
With the switch to the back three since then, Tyler talked about how Pineda is asking him to find the pockets of space near the wings and look for the forward passes.
“I’m trying to find those areas, and get in the box when the ball is on the opposite side.”
Wolff also praised his fellow homegrown guys and young teammates, and how they’ve scored a total of nine goals this season so far.
“It motivates the younger guys to want to play and score, and it’s a domino effect.”
Wolff wrapped up his media availability with how he and the team could be effective against Orlando at home, and how he stays as involved with the formational switch.
“I think if we can go and throw a punch early [against Orlando] it sets us up well for the rest of the game,” he said as he pointed out the early overturned penalty kick against Philadelphia that helped set the ton of the match.
Gonzalo Pineda then took the podium where he let everyone know that Giorgos Giakoumakis and Miles Robinson would be available for selection Saturday. He also fielded a variety of questions about tactics and the formational difference over the past few matches.
“It’s not a matter of the formation. The formation solves nothing on its own. It’s more to me how we perform, about how much we understand the tactics, the game plan. At times the very little details are the ones that matter the most.”
Pineda also talked about working with the team to more organically switch between a traditional back three or back four, depending on the opposition and game state, but noted that it takes time in training to make sure the transition is seamless.
The conversation then switched more to specific players, where Pineda noted that coaching a guy like Derrick Etienne just boiled down to instilling the confidence in him. The coaching staff and analytics folks had determined, via Atlanta’s heat maps in 2022, that Etienne’s style of play showed him in the pockets of space on the left side of the pitch that were typically silent last year. Etienne’s own movements placed him in those areas, and it’s shown by his ability to end up in dangerous attacking locations.
“I think he’s one of those that once he scores a goal...and builds that confidence he will score many, many goals for us.”
At media availability, Pineda fielded questions focused on the back 3, saying the flexibility to switch like they did against New England was important and with Miles back not much should change. He noted it was less the formation and more the “little things” and how players 1/3 pic.twitter.com/2POoSK8Fol— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) July 14, 2023
Gonzalo then rounded out the session with praise for guys like Machop Chol and Brooks Lennon, and about the player’s recovery. He noted Machop’s physical ability and his improvement on the ball with the “cheeky moves” that he loves to perform, and that typically aren’t expected from a guy of his stature. As for Brooks Lennon, he said “we have to continue pushing him.”
“One of the main things people don’t highlight is how good of a defender he’s becoming. I think he’s learning a lot with that, and his primary role is defending. Now we have to continue pushing him to higher limits.”
Pineda also pointed out that he has to rely on the fitness work they’ve been doing, the quality of the players on the ball, and the energy that the stadium brings in regards to the quick turnaround on matches.
“Playing a derby at home in front of 45000 + fans is going to bring a lot of energy. If you’re tired, you won’t feel it. That’s the magic of football, once you play there in a full stadium and everyone is supporting you and it’s a big derby, you don’t get tired. You continue pushing yourself to your limits.”
Atlanta United will be back Saturday evening for a 7:55 kickoff against Orlando, so be sure to follow along here on Dirty South Soccer for your match thread. Also, be sure to leave your comments below!