Atlanta United working on getting ball into dangerous areas

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Watch again Atlanta United’s goal against Toronto in Saturday’s 1-1 draw and you’ll see a good example of what manager Gonzalo Pineda wants from players when they get into what he describes as the “primary assist zones.”

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Primary assist zones start on the end lines, a few yards from each goal post, and run in an arc toward the sidelines, finishing around 20 yards up the field.

On the goal, Brooks Lennon hit a cross from the primary assist zone on the right to the back post toward Derrick Etienne Jr., who is in the primary assist zone on the left. Etienne passed to Thiago Almada toward the middle of the field. He laid the ball off to an onrushing Matheus Rossetto, who scored.

“We’re getting in those areas,” Lennon said Tuesday. “That’s what Gonzo wants us to continue to improve on, is the goal-scoring opportunities that we get in games. We need to have better clear-cut chances and opportunities for our strikers. We have such quality guys in the final third, and we just need to give them tap-ins instead of relying upon shots from outside the box.”

Part of Tuesday’s training session focused on creating chances from the primary assist zones. Before the session started, assistant coaches came out and painstakingly put orange tape on the field to delineate the zones.

After the team worked Tuesday on restarts and maintaining possession, the players spent time working on getting into the zones. Playing on a shorter field, Pineda said goals scored with assists from the zones counted double. No goals were scored Tuesday, but there were chances created. It’s a type of training the team has used before.

“It’s way easier,” Pineda said in 2021. “It’s common sense, but it’s also data that supports that when you cross from those areas you have more probability to score.”

Atlanta United pumped in 38 crosses, including corner kicks, against Toronto. Not all were hit from the zones, but most were. Atlanta United put in 27 in the Week 1 win against San Jose, including the corner kick on Almada’s first goal. The team ranks second in MLS in crosses into the penalty box (8) and corner kicks (17).

“Toronto, they were defending with numbers inside their own box,” Lennon said. “And that’s always tough to break down. So you have to get the ball wide and try and put dangerous crosses into the box for your strikers.”

Atlanta United doesn’t force the ball into those areas just for the sake of things. Amar Sejdic, a central midfielder, said where he passes depends upon the rhythm of the play, the positioning of the opposing players and the runs of teammates.

“We’re always looking to find little combination plays with the triangles, diamonds that we make on the center to the flanks, and then how can we get that ball into dangerous areas and progress from there,” he said.

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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 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

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