Atlanta United confident goals are coming

March 10, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer walks off the field after a 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati in their MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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March 10, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United head coach Frank de Boer walks off the field after a 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati in their MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta United once again will try to win its first MLS game this season, in its fifth try, when it takes on New England on Saturday.

Though it has scored only two goals and has put the fewest shots on goal (13) of any team in the league this season, Atlanta United’s confidence is high after its most recent game at Columbus on March 30 and morale is strong after a meeting that included players and coaches in the days after the game.

“We didn’t think it would take five MLS games to get our first win,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “But I think we’d all be happy if we got our first one in the fifth game.

“I don’t like the term ‘must-win.’ It’s a long season and things can change quickly. But for the mentality of the group, and the way we’ve trained last week and this week, it would be a good for us to reap the rewards for the attitude and the work rate by getting a win, for sure.”

Though Atlanta United lost at Columbus 2-0, it looked more like the team that last season won the MLS Cup than it has in most of its previous games this season. The offense flowed. Quality shots were taken. It was a performance that built confidence.

That was followed by a meeting in which manager Frank de Boer and the players discussed expectations and motivations for the season.

“Everybody understands from their point of view, and our points of view as a staff, what we really want for each other,” de Boer said. “What we, as Atlanta United, stand for. It’s been a good two weeks, but now we have to execute it in a game.”

It was almost like a reboot or a re-focus to shake off the feelings left by failing to advance past the second round of the Champions League.

“Two weeks ago, we told each other we have to turn the page,” Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said. “We have to look forward, start again, focus our energy here. Forget the past and think on the future. This is why maybe we are better as a team. Maybe this was essential for the spirit of the team. We are ready to change the situation and can do it.”

The words weren’t empty because the required actions followed, according to de Boer.

He said the players have worked as hard in training as they have at any point this season.

“I have to admit there was energy, there was respect with discipline how we want to train,” he said. “Also, the technical things that we could have trained. Very pleased with the performance and attitude of the team these two weeks.”

Creating more goal-scoring chances is job No. 1.

During the international break, when the team had a week without a game, Atlanta United was without six players, five of whom are forwards or midfielders, because they were called up by their national teams. So, de Boer couldn’t work as much as he would have liked on improving the offense.

Most of those players were available the past two weeks.

“We are a team that has to have more shots on goal,” de Boer said. “I think we have the quality to do that and the quality to score goals. Everyone understands better what we ask from them and hopefully we create more chances. What I see from them, I’m convinced that we are going to create a lot more chances.”

The work, both physically and mentally, was needed because Atlanta United hasn’t won a game since March 13.

Of the 720 minutes it has played across eight games in MLS and Champions League, Atlanta United has held a lead for less than 200 minutes.

“We certainly can’t change the past,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We’ve got to look forward. We do that by looking forward to New England. We know that it’s a big game. As a team, as a group, we want as fast as possible to pick up some points. We want to make sure that we get this thing going. There’s a lot of soccer to be played, a lot of points to play for. We hold ourselves to a certain level, and we haven’t been good enough as a group.”