Atlanta United ready for Columbus after intense week

Atlanta United forward Ronaldo Cisneros (29) celebrates with defender Brooks Lennon (11) after Lennon scores the fourth and final goal against Chicago Fire FC Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Atlanta United forward Ronaldo Cisneros (29) celebrates with defender Brooks Lennon (11) after Lennon scores the fourth and final goal against Chicago Fire FC Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Its season one-third complete, its roster depleted by injuries and its place in the standings at least one spot below preferable, Atlanta United faces what Gonzalo Pineda described as a “massive, massive” game when it hosts Columbus on Saturday.

Three points would help make up for the points the team has dropped in its past seven games (1-3-3), give it some confidence heading into a two-week FIFA-mandated break and give the roster some time to heal and gain depth before the team next plays June 19 vs. Miami.

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Pineda said the players are ready.

“I’m very happy with the response of the players throughout the week,” he said. “They’ve been very serious, very intense, working very hard. Also learning the little details that can help us to achieve points.”

Those little details are improving the desire to win more duels and the concentration on set pieces, which will be important because Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan may be the best free-kick taker in MLS, and the team has given up seven goals on set pieces this season. Pineda said the easiest way to control Zelarayan is by Atlanta United keeping the ball.

Brooks Lennon said Tuesday’s training session, which was fiery, focused on game scenarios, such as being ahead or behind by one or two goals, and how the players can be successful. The team has been good at rallying to secure a point or points this season, including last week’s late goal to earn a 2-2 draw at Nashville.

“That’s the thing that’s going to (help us) climb up the table and can get us these three points that we need,” Lennon said.

Should the team defeat Columbus, it will go into the break with confidence gained from the victory and knowing that standout striker Josef Martinez should be ready for the first game coming out of the break. Additionally, fullback Caleb Wiley and winger Machop Chol also could be available after overcoming their injuries.

The team is in eighth place in the East, but tied in points (16) with seventh-place Charlotte, having played one less game. Atlanta United trails first-place Philadelphia by eight points and is five ahead of last-place Chicago.

The team needs to start gaining ground on the leaders if it hopes to host a playoff game.

Pineda said all points are important.

“There are no games that count six points or seven points,” he said. “So yes, we know that we’re still in the first third of the season. But the season flies, and the time goes up very fast. And we cannot just say, ‘Oh, yeah, we don’t care about this because we have a lot of points ahead.’ No. We have to start to catch up a little bit.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas