Atlanta United knows what it needs to work on

March 5, 2017, Atlanta: The Atlanta United RC gather for a team photo before taking on the N.Y. Red Bulls during their first game in franchise history on Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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March 5, 2017, Atlanta: The Atlanta United RC gather for a team photo before taking on the N.Y. Red Bulls during their first game in franchise history on Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Staying together as a team. Focusing as a team. Tactics for the team. Playing as a team.

Atlanta United’s players gave different answers, but each featured the same theme for the No. 1 thing that needs to improve during the international break for the Five Stripes ahead of their crucial six-game homestand.

“Stick together,” Atlanta United midfielder Chris McCann said. “Be a tight-knit group of people. Focus on ourselves and focus on our game. When we bring our game and our full potential to the field, I don’t think there are many teams that can live with us in the league.”

The team is in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United is tied with Montreal with 36 points, but the Impact are in seventh because of tiebreakers. The Five Stripes trail third-place Columbus by six points, but have played four fewer games.

To increase the chances of winning as many of the 30 points possible from its 10 remaining games, including six consecutive at home starting Sept. 10 against Dallas at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the players say they must, well, you know, be a team.

Part of the difficulty facing Atlanta United is that not everyone is at practice.

While midfielders Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin and goalkeeper Alec Kann have re-joined the team, three players, striker Josef Martinez, attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron and goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who are crucial to the team’s success, are with their respective national teams for World Cup qualifying games.

“I know there are a few guys that are going to go on international break, but we just have to stick together,” said fullback Tyrone Mears, whose goal in the 91st minute resulted in a 2-2 at Philadelphia on Saturday.

Not having Almiron, who has eight goals and nine assists this season, and Martinez, who has nine goals and one assist, may benefit Atlanta United, according to fullback Greg Garza.

Because Atlanta United has played almost every team once, he said that teams have studied “to the max” Almiron, Martinez and Hector Villalba, the team’s three Designated Players.

“It’s hard for those guys to break out their individual capabilities when (opponents) know what these guys offer,” Garza said.

Martinez didn’t score in the past two games after returning from a bruised right foot. Almiron has scored one goal in the past 12 games and has one assist in the past five. Villalba, who leads the team with 10 goals, hasn’t scored in the past three games.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Atlanta United has scored just five goals in the past five games and is 1-1-3, including a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Aug. 23.

“As a team we have to start finding a game plan for all of us and not rely on the individual capabilities that we have,” Garza said. “When things aren’t going our way in the game, we have to some sort of game plan, and I think that was our mistake in these last two games. I think we focused too much on having Josef and Miguel back at 100 percent. That was a bit of a downfall for us.”

Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said he isn’t worried about the offense. They just need to keep their cool.

“There are times when we attack and we want it all to happen right away, and we get a bit frustrated and try to do too much,” he said.