Atlanta United home for first time in long time

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Atlanta United home for first time in long time

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Fans unfurl the Atlanta United FC tifo to open the action against the New York Red Bulls during their first game in franchise history Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

For the first time since the team reported to preseason training camp in Bradenton, Fla., in January, Atlanta United’s players can unpack their suitcases and spend some time at their homes.

The team will host Houston in the first of consecutive home games that includes NYCFC and will get to spend almost three weeks in Atlanta before it next hits the road.

This will be the longest the team has stayed in one place. Even when the team returned from Florida and trained in Flowery Branch, there were interruptions.

“Nice to get into a rhythm, nice to be able to play back to back games for our fans,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “We want to start winning those home games.”

The team has won just one of its first three home games and is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. With 12 points, nine from its league-high seven road games, it trails first-place Toronto by 13 points, but sixth-place New York Red Bulls by just four. The top six teams in each conference will make the playoffs.

Parkhurst said it’s too soon to worry about that.

“It’s important to win your home games and important to go out and play well in front of your fans,” Parkhurst said. “There’s no doubt we want to get six points, but it doesn’t always happen. If I come here in two weeks and we’ve got four points or three, I’m not going to say, ‘Ugggh, we are in a terrible spot.’ But we want to put an emphasis and pressure on ourselves to start winning home games.”

Atlanta United has the confidence of its performance at Portland to draw from. Though the team drew 1-1 with the Timbers, for the first time this season it showed it can consistently play the type of soccer that manager Gerardo Martino started installing at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

The Five Stripes controlled possession with 70 percent of the ball. It was its third-highest total this season, but was the most impressive because Portland was among the league’s best teams and its home of Providence Park is one of the toughest in which to play.

The confidence of that performance, combined with another sellout crowd of 45,000, has Atlanta United’s players feeling good.

Marietta’s Mark Bloom, who started last week against Portland in place of Greg Garza and may start again this week, said he can’t wait to possibly get to play in front of the crowd. Both of his starts have come on the road.

Midfielder Julian Gressel, who scored his first goal last week, said he has enjoyed exploring Atlanta with his girlfriend and appreciates that the city has embraced him.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez may have said it best, and in English instead of his native Spanish.

“We want to play with our people,” he said. “It’s great. It’s so loud.”

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