Atlanta United vs. New England: 4 things to watch

Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez works against Philadelphia Union defenders in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Atlanta. Philadelphia won 3-0. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez works against Philadelphia Union defenders in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Atlanta. Philadelphia won 3-0. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Atlanta United will look to snap the longest winless streak in franchise history against the best team in the MLS Eastern Conference when it hosts New England on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Oh, and it will be trying to win its first in eight games possibly without its best player, Josef Martinez, for mysterious reasons, as well as four more starters who are playing for national teams, and at least two more who are injured.

Good times.

Here are four things to watch Saturday:

Will Martinez play? Only manager Gabriel Heinze knows.

Heinze saying Thursday that the striker still isn’t training with the team after two weeks isn’t a good sign. Typically, if a player isn’t training with the team two days before the game he doesn’t start.

Martinez hasn’t played a minute of competitive soccer since going 90 minutes in a 2-2 draw with Nashville on May 29. The team has earned three points from the subsequent five games, scoring five goals and suffering three shutouts.

If Martinez doesn’t play, where are the goals coming from? Jackson Conway scored his first in a league game for the team in last week’s 2-2 draw with Nashville, so that’s a start. Centerback Anton Walkes scored the first in that game on a set piece. Doing so again doesn’t seem likely, but nothing seems typical with Atlanta United the past two seasons.

Marcelino Moreno remains the team’s top scorer, with three goals. He is one of the few healthy attacking starters eligible for selection. Aside from Moreno, Martinez and Walkes, no player has scored more than one goal. The team has scored 13 goals in 12 games.

Can Amar Sejdic provide a spark? We may get to see what the former Montreal player, acquired in a trade last week, can do. Heinze praised Sejdic’s understanding of the game. Jake Mulraney compared him with Emerson Hyndman, who is out for the season after sustaining a torn ACL in his knee during training.

“That’s a great compliment,” Sejdic said Thursday.

Sejdic, who made seven appearances, with four starts, for Montreal this season, said he was surprised by the trade. To learn what Heinze wants, he said he traveled to Nashville and watched the game from the stands so that he could get a better tactical view of what is expected. He said that on defense he will have more ground to cover, but he likes that the team plays the ball through the central midfield a lot.

“... I like to be on the ball a lot,” he said.

Sejdic said that Heinze, like his previous manager Thierry Henry in Montreal, is giving him confidence.

Will there be an emotional bounce after last week? That depends upon who you ask.

The team rallied to earn a precious point last week and did so with four Homegrowns on the field: George Campbell, Tyler Wolff, Machop Chol and Conway.

The result and the circumstances seem like two positives that could propel the team.

Heinze said Thursday that a positive mindset is very important for a team, but that he hasn’t seen an increase compared with last week.

Mulraney said he thinks there has been a lot of energy in training this week, some fueled by a plethora of younger players.

Southern Fried Soccer

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN

July 21 at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., FS1

July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC

July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN

Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN

Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE