Atlanta United defense improving ahead of match against Chicago

Atlanta United defender Derrick Williams (3) passes the ball during the first half against the  New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta United won 4-1. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Atlanta United defender Derrick Williams (3) passes the ball during the first half against the New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta United won 4-1. (Jason Getz /

Atlanta United has allowed only one goal in its first two home matches, with Chicago coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.

That one goal was a throwaway near the end of what would be a 4-1 win against New England.

So far, it’s an improvement from last season, when the Five Stripes went 10-3-4 at home, allowing 20 goals in 17 matches.

Part of the improvement can be attributed to the team’s focus on upgrading its personnel at centerback. Another part is how much those players are communicating with each other to make sure that spaces are covered and opponents are marked. Derrick Williams, signed in the offseason, is quite the chatterbox, according to teammates.

“I’ve always been that way,” Williams said. “I think the last couple of years I’ve really worked on it.”

Williams could be heard during the team’s preseason matches, when it’s a bit easier to hear over the din of a stadium. Sometimes, it was to hold the defensive line. Other times, it was marking assignments on set pieces.

Though Williams has been with the team only a few weeks, and played in only four matches, he has learned which players need to be spoken to in certain ways.

He can flat-out yell at Giorgos Giakoumakis and Noah Cobb, for example. Others need a more specific modulation.

“Before I used to just shout at everyone,” he said. “And it wasn’t positive because sometimes you shout at some person, they react react negatively. They put their head down, they go in their shell and then it’s a lose-lose battle for everyone.”

Cobb likely will be Williams’ partner Sunday because Stian Gregersen is injured, and Luis Abram hasn’t yet started a match this season.

Williams said he and Cobb have developed a good understanding with each other based upon their work together during the preseason. Williams said he appreciates Cobb’s desire to learn and courage to constantly ask questions to improve.

“He has all the attributes to be a very good centerback,” Williams said. “I just keep telling him, ‘Just keep talking. Talk as much as you can,’ because then it helps everyone else around them.”

There was a miscommunication, or lack of understanding, in the first goal allowed to Toronto last week. Cobb stepped into space to defend a player. Neither Williams nor Brooks Lennon moved into the space that Cobb vacated. The hole was exploited and Toronto scored.

Pineda said he thought the duo performed well. He said he’d like to see better distribution from the players when they have the ball and said that Atlanta United is trying to build an attack, but otherwise he said he thought the team played well, especially considering the circumstances.

Chicago will provide an interesting test. The Fire added midfielder Kellyn Acosta and striker Hugo Cuypers during the offseason, to go with Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Herbers and Gaston Gimenez. The Fire’s nine goals are second most in the East.

They typically play out of a middle block where they try to defend the middle-third of the pitch, win the ball and then counter.

“We need mobility, we need to be on the front foot, we need to be constantly playing the ball, moving fast and playing and moving,” Pineda said. “Hopefully we can give them the solutions and the tools to succeed in the match.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.