Atlanta United’s fullback, winger and midfielder are dancing together

Atlanta United's Jurgen Damm controls the ball during a 2-1 loss to Columbus on Sunday.
Atlanta United's Jurgen Damm controls the ball during a 2-1 loss to Columbus on Sunday.

When Atlanta United plays Alajuelense in its season-opening game on Tuesday, watch the choreography between the fullbacks, the wingers ahead of them, and the attacking midfielder.

If the players are communicating and reading each other correctly, you should see the three interchanging positions as they probe the defense, looking for holes to attack or in trying to create numerical advantages.

Left fullback Mikey Ambrose and right winger Jurgen Damm on Wednesday explained how manager Gabriel Heinze wants them to work with the attacking midfielder, whether its Ezequiel Barco, Emerson Hyndman, Tyler Wolff or Franco Ibarra.

“Kind of like a chess match when you are in that triangle with the other three guys,” Ambrose said. “It’s fun.”

Heinze wants the trio to move together. If the winger comes inside, the attacking midfielder will move outside, or the fullback will move higher. If the attacking midfielder moves outside, the winger will move back inside to cover that space. And the fullback will move up to offer support.

“It’s a nice flow between the three of us,” Ambrose said. “We are getting used to it.”

Damm said he spends time after training sessions talking to Heinze about what he wants tactically.

When the wingers have the ball in the final third of the field, Heinze wants them to attack the defender and try to get to goal or to put in a cross. That is why against Charleston and then against Birmingham when Damm, Machop Chol, Erik Lopez or Marcelino Moreno got the ball near the sideline they would hold onto to it and then attack instead of instantly passing and moving. It worked well on the lone goal against Birmingham. The play started with Moreno skipping over one tackle before getting to the end line, where his cross was turned out for a corner kick. Anton Walkes scored from the corner kick.

When the winger on the other side of the field has the ball, Heinze wants the opposite winger to stay near the sideline so if they do receive the ball there should be space to attack.

“For me, that type of game is very good,” Damm said. “I’m enjoying this era with a great coach, and a great ex-football player.”

Though the tactics are as aggressive as Gerardo Martino’s when he managed the club in 2017 and ‘18, he said Heinze’s system is different. Under Martino, the fullbacks played more vertically. Like, really vertical. Constantly getting up and down. There are horizontal and diagonal movements under Heinze.

“We’ve been working on it now for a couple of months,” Ambrose said. “We have it down pretty well.”

In Other News