Cloudy grey skies were the background at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground as Atlanta United wrapped up preparations to attempt to extend its two-match win streak against league-leading FC Cincinnati.
In its two MLS matches since the Leagues Cup break, the Five Stripes have scored a combined six unanswered goals and received a second wind courtesy of some of the newest additions to the squad.
Now, fans and players alike feel like anything could be possible this season despite facing a difficult final eight matches.
Two players were absent from training on Tuesday: Ozzie Alonso is still recovering from a leg injury and Jamal Thiaré is still waiting on his visa. Both have been ruled out for Wednesday’s match.
Winger Edwin Mosquera talked to media for the first time since returning to the squad after he was recalled from his loan to Defensa y Justicia. He says he’s glad to be back and feels that he really matured as a player during his short stint in Argentina.
“From the very first moment, I was happy,” Mosquera said. “I feel like I’m feeling at home here. I think I have a lot of room to grow and I’m happy to be here.”
The 22-year-old Colombian said he believes the reason he was recalled was because the club saw his qualities and that they wanted to add that to the team. He says that he has applied the intensity from his experience with Defensa y Justicia in his recent games with Atlanta United.
He also spoke about the developing connection between himself and new signing Xande Silva who scored and assisted on Saturday during his home debut against Nashville SC.
“I think that the association comes from outside the locker room,” Mosquera said. “We get along well and the feeling leads to the connection on the pitch.”
Mosquera stated that the team’s morale is high going into Wednesday’s match and that they feel that it is an occasion to prove themselves as true contenders.
“We are very happy,” Mosquera said. “We want to show and keep proving that we are capable of big things.”
Gonzalo Pineda, who will serve a one-match touchline ban due to yellow card accumulation, spoke about FC Cincinnati and the kind of test that comes when playing the Supporters’ Shield leaders.
“It’s [Cincinnati] a very complete team,” Pineda said. “And yes, of course, it’s something that motivates us to have a good game and continue with the good momentum of the group.”
After defeating Hany Mukhtar’s Nashville SC, Atlanta now has to deal with Luciano Acosta’s FC Cincinnati- another top-level team with a serious MVP candidate. Pineda mentioned maintaining possession as a key way to limit Acosta’s effectiveness against the Five Stripes.
“If we are able to sustain the ball, to have longer possessions higher up the field, the active defending- always keep an eye on those three up front- you know? It’s full determination to make it difficult for them, especially in transition where they are being very, very good,” Pineda said.
He went further to say that Cincinnati is undoubtedly thinking about limiting Thiago Almada in the same way, especially after his big performance against Nashville.
When asked about possible rotation with two matches in four days, Pineda said he does not want to make many changes.
“Not too many,” Pineda said, “To be honest, I would like to keep as much as I can. Of course, there are a few guys that we are monitoring in recoveries, but if I do a few changes, it’s gonna be one or two, not many.”
One of Pineda’s comments after Saturday’s win was praising the player pairings all over the field. Today, he elaborated on the specific aspects that he feels are making these pairings work.
“Yeah, I think it’s the cohesion both in attack and defense,” Pineda said. “For example, in possession, how Tristan and Rossetto are understanding how to occupy different spaces in behind the nine so that attackers for the position and how they can find different passing lanes from Brad [Guzan], from the center backs and then from there how they can combine and progress the ball forward into our attacking players.”
Pineda also stressed the importance of players shifting to cover when a teammate is out of position. He feels like this has helped some of the pressing and build-up look more organized and effective.
An interesting pattern in attacks that has occurred a few times over the past two games is when Xande Silva and Mosquera end up on the same flank and create overloads on one side of the field. Pineda says that he tries to make sure one of them is on either side to balance the team and provide cover, but that sometimes it's just the way the play develops.
“We always want to have players on the outside channels. We want to stretch the back five, the back four of the opponents, so if we have that, then okay: Xande is on this side, who’s covering for him? And there’s how we balance the team around that,” Pineda said. “And we all understand that because then if we don’t cover for each other, then there’s chaos.”