Atlanta United’s Pogba ready if selected to start in MLS playoffs

First half action at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York, on Wednesday September 25, 2019. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

First half action at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York, on Wednesday September 25, 2019. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

If selected to start by manager Frank de Boer, Atlanta United’s Flo Pogba said he’s ready to play in Thursday’s Eastern Conference semifinal against Philadelphia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With neither Miles Robinson (hamstring) nor Michael Parkhurst (shoulder) training on Monday, it seems probable that Pogba will get his ninth start especially if the team continues to use three centerbacks as part of its 3-5-2 formation. Should de Boer change it up and go with a four-man backline, Pogba could start as left fullback.

“I think I’m more comfortable in the middle, but it’s been longer that I’ve played that position,” he said. “I also like playing as an outside back because I get more contact with the ball. I’m a player who always like to have the ball. I’m comfortable in both positions.”

In the three-man backline, Pogba said he prefers to play on the left and not in the middle because it allows him to get forward. He came in at left fullback as part of a change in formations in last week’s 1-0 win against New England in the first round of the playoffs.

Pogba attacked several times. On defense, he handled his duties and showed his confidence with the ball when he hit 50-yard pass to Ezequiel Barco that split two of New England’s defensive lines.

Teammate Emerson Hyndman said Pogba’s confidence with the ball stands out during training sessions.

“He brings that kind of calmness to the game,” Hyndman said. “When he’s on the ball, he’s quite composed, looks for passes forward between the lines, things like that. “

Pogba said that comes from advice his father gave him when he was growing up.

“I’ve always been like that, since I was a little kid,” Pogba said. “I think it’s because I like soccer so much. Soccer is my life. My whole life I’ve trained very hard to be ready physically, emotionally, tactically, just doing everything I could to improve as a player. My dad told me I had to be the best at every position. It doesn’t matter if you are playing forward, midfielder, holding midfielder, outside back, I wanted to be the best.”

Pogba’s words aren’t empty of meaning. While not playing with Atlanta United earlier this season, he wanted minutes so he asked to play with Atlanta United 2 at Indianapolis. Pogba’s brothers, Paul, who plays for Manchester United, and Mathias, who plays for a third division team in Spain, were in town. Instead of hanging out with them, Pogba chose the game minutes.

“He’s a professional and you are seeing that now, the effects he’s given the first team,” Atlanta United 2 manager Stephen Glass said.

Pogba said he won’t know for a couple of days if he will start. He said playing two times for Guinea during the international break helped him with his rhythm and confidence when he came in for Hyndman against New England. He said he has a good relationship on the field with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who would likely start in the middle of a three-man backline, or as one of the centerbacks in a four-man backline.

The 6-foot-4 Pogba could prove invaluable because Philadelphia tortured New York Red Bulls with set-pieces in their first-round matchup. Pogba would easily be the tallest field player for Atlanta United, almost equal to Philadelphia centerback Jack Elliott, who is 6-foot-5.

“He’s obviously a big guy,” Hyndman said. “He puts his body out there. We have no worries about him. I’m sure he’ll do great.”