Atlanta United vs. Orlando: 4 things to watch

Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez will be available for selection for Wednesday’s MLS game at Orlando, according to manager Gonzalo Pineda.

Martinez resumed training with the team Monday after he was suspended last week for conduct detrimental to the team. The team won the game in which Martinez wasn’t eligible to play, 4-2 against Toronto on Saturday.

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Pineda wouldn’t say if he and Martinez have spoken, saying that’s private. Pineda also wouldn’t say if Martinez will resume his role as a sub, or if he will start. Pineda said that Martinez, who leads the team with eight goals, is fit. Martinez wasn’t made available for interviews Tuesday.

“We assess game by game. I feel like the team did a great job in the last one,” Pineda said. “But I can use him as we need.”

Dom Dwyer started at striker in place of Martinez. He was replaced in the 70th minute by Ronaldo Cisneros.

“I think it’s good he was back Monday,” midfielder Santiago Sosa said. “You know we’re a team, so the environment is good.”

Dwyer said he thinks Martinez is focused after not being allowed to train with the team last week.

“I think if you watch any training today, you’ll see he’s ready,” Dwyer said. “Sometimes in football, things happen, and it’s how you react from them which makes you a real legend in the game. So I think it’s no secret what Josef has done. And it’s history here.”

Here are other things to watch Wednesday:

The playoff race. Atlanta United trails seventh-place Columbus by five points for the final playoff spot, with four games remaining. Columbus is playing at Miami on Tuesday. So, by the time Atlanta United kicks off Wednesday, the gap either could still be five or as much as six as the standings shuffle with Tuesday’s results.

Pineda said the team likely will need to take at least nine points from its remaining games. It has yet to win two consecutive games this season.

“I will say that in my mind, yes, we’re trying to win all of them,” Pineda said. “That’s a reality. We need, for me, between nine and 12 points to really make (the) playoffs and be a little bit in control of that. Less than that is going to be probably more challenging, right? So we want to focus on the message to the players is just (about) this game, just Orlando. But in my mind, obviously, I have to look at the entire amount of games and try to get the best out of the four.”

The team will host red-hot Philadelphia on Saturday. It is running away with the Eastern Conference with 63 points, 10 more than second-place Montreal. Atlanta United will finish with games at New England and at home against reeling NYCFC.

“Every game is a must-win,” Sosa said. “I don’t think we have any margin for error. So we’re going to try and win every game. We don’t have the luxury of drawing or losing a match at this point. We’ve got to win all the games, and the team has to make sure that we have nothing left, that we give everything that we have.”

Set pieces and crosses. If Atlanta United is to go on a run, it likely will need to keep scoring from set pieces and crosses. Eight of the team’s past nine goals have come from headers, including a hat trick by centerback JuanJo Purata in the win against Toronto.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defender score a hat trick, especially a hat trick of headers in the same game, in the same half, in the same corner,” Dwyer said. “That was interesting.”

Getting more crosses and punch into the offense has been a point of emphasis. That’s why Pineda said he moved Luiz Araujo to the left wing against Toronto instead of his customary spot on the right. Pineda said having two left-footed players on the left side can provide more options and variety to the offense. Atlanta United put in 13 crosses as well as 11 corner kicks. It scored on three of the corner kicks.

“At times we are getting a little bit predictable with too narrow and not getting enough chances from other areas,” Pineda said. “Because every time we have inverted wingers, we tend to come inside.”

Pineda said he was very pleased with Araujo’s performance against Toronto. He led the team in shots (7) and dribbles completed (5) and was third in crosses (5).

Playing directly. Another thing that Pineda wants to see continue is the team playing more vertically, which it did well against Toronto. Pineda said it’s been a point of emphasis all season. It has happened consistently only in a few games, including against Sporting KC and Chicago. Both were at home. Pineda wants to see players making runs behind the defensive lines and to see passes breaking lines.

Atlanta United took a season-high 27 shots against Toronto, putting 10 on goal, which tied another season high. It finished with an expected goals of 3.58, which also was a season high.

“We want to control the game with tempo and good possession, but at the same time we want to create chances,” Pineda said.

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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 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Aug. 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

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

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

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE