While Atlanta United supporters are waiting anxiously to see who is going to lead the offense, work is being done at the other end of the field to stop opponents’ offenses.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and centerbacks Miles Robinson and JuanJo Purata, the three players at the heart of the defense, are veterans but haven’t played together as a trio. Guzan and Robinson suffered Achilles ruptures last season that ended their seasons. Purata was brought in on loan from Tigres to replace Robinson.
Saturday’s exhibition match at Chattanooga may be the first opportunity to watch them work together.
“I feel comfortable playing with him,” Purata said of Robinson, but he later spoke similar words about Guzan. “I think we’ve had a good relationship, and we’re building good chemistry in these weeks of preseason. So even though we speak a different language, it’s not an issue, we’re able to communicate the things that we need to. So I think we’re working through that in preseason, and I think we can be a good duo.”
Robinson last week described Purata as a “workhorse” and that he was looking forward to forming a good partnership.
Purata made 17 appearances last season. Robinson made nine, pushing his career total for regular-season games with Atlanta United to 96, before his injury. They may be the most athletic centerback duo in MLS. Both are tall (6 feet, 2 inches), fast and good one-on-one defenders. Their athletic ability should help shore up Atlanta United’s penchant for allowing set-piece goals. Of the 54 goals it allowed last season, 15 came from set pieces.
Purata made up for some of those by scoring six goals. That is more than the combined totals of all of Atlanta United centerbacks in the franchise’s first five seasons. He wouldn’t bite when asked if he and Robinson had a competition to see which one would score more goals this season.
“Well, hopefully we can score, but I’ve said it, and I think the emphasis this year is just about getting as many points as we can as a group,” he said. “So it’s about scoring goals, but it’s also about not conceding as many goals.”
After Saturday’s friendly, the team will spend time training in Mexico. Purata said he is looking forward to going home. The team will play friendlies at Atlante on Feb. 4 and at Cruz Azul on Feb. 8.
“But I’m also excited for these preseason matches to see where we are and then work and to see how we’re doing with some of the things that we’ve been working on as a group,” he said. “And we’ve got the first test on Saturday.”
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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule
Feb. 25 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m.
March 4 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
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
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