Atlanta United will look to build on the best start in franchise history when it faces depleted Portland at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes (2-0-1) have never gone unbeaten through the first four games in an MLS season. Portland will be missing at least eight players, including Sebastian Blanco, Evander and Yimmi Chara, to injuries.
The host’s hot start combined with the lack of Timbers personnel would seem to equal the visitors playing in a low block and trying to frustrate Atlanta United. That’s a common tactic used by opposing teams in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda, who as an assistant at Seattle faced the Timbers in Cascadia Cup play many times, is making no assumptions.
“If I know something about Portland, it’s they’re always competitive,” Pineda said. “So I don’t think they’re a team that are going to be feeling sorry for themselves for having a lot of injuries. They are going to come with everything trying to beat us.”
Earlier this season, San Jose and Toronto used low blocks to frustrate Atlanta United. The Five Stripes were able to beat the Earthquakes with two late goals by Thiago Almada and settled for a 1-1 tie with Toronto.
The one team that tried to play with Atlanta United, Charlotte, was ripped apart 3-0 last week at Bank of America Stadium.
Should Portland play defensively, Pineda said it has been proved in matches played around the world that it isn’t easy to get the ball past 11 players positioned in two lines within a block 30 yards tall by 76 yards wide to a teammate in front of goal.
But Atlanta United has been practicing against the tactic, including Thursday. He said the team scored two goals.
The key is to move the ball quickly to move the opponents, playing with tempo, finding spaces within the lines and sending runners behind the lines.
“So a lot of things to throw out there to have different options to break a back line of five or six or four,” he said. “We need to work on that. And that’s the evolution throughout the season. We’ll continue with improvement.”
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1
March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0
March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.
March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1
April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox
May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA
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