Atlanta United’s Tyler Wolff, Nic Firmino learn lessons in first starts this season

Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff #28 kicks the ball during the first half of the match against Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada on Saturday March 23, 2024. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United)

Credit: Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United

Credit: Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Tyler Wolff #28 kicks the ball during the first half of the match against Toronto FC at BMO Field in Toronto, Canada on Saturday March 23, 2024. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United winger Tyler Wolff and attacking midfielder Nic Firmino said they learned lessons from their first starts in Saturday’s loss at Toronto that they hope to apply Sunday against Chicago.

Toronto provided a tough test. The wintry conditions affected the team’s tactics. Toronto started by playing an aggressive man-to-man style that was uncharacteristic. Atlanta United also was missing five starters. Firmino started because Thiago Almada is with Argentina’s Under-23 team. Wolff started in place of Xande Silva, who subbed in later during the match.

Wolff thought he did fine on defense, which ranks among the reasons that manager Gonzalo Pineda said he got the start. Offensively, Atlanta United’s attacks started mostly down the right, limiting Wolff’s effectiveness on the left. Toronto’s aggressive pressing and a 13-mph wind made it difficult for Atlanta United to hit long balls from one side of the pitch to the other, which they prefer to do. Lastly, Ronald Hernandez, Atlanta United’s fullback on the left side, didn’t get forward too often, mostly because Atlanta United needed to guard against Toronto’s Federico Bernardeschi countering. Wolff finished with 16 touches, including one chance created, in almost 65 minutes.

“I think we, we need to work on kind of switching the point of attack quicker,” Wolff said. “And once we break lines, we need to play a little quicker.”

The team watched video Tuesday.

“There’s a few different ways we can break down a team who plays like that next time,” Wolff said. “So, yeah, it was a tough opponent. They were organized. So hopefully we have more ideas going forward.”

While Wolff made his 14th career start, Firmino made his first. He signed a contract making him a first-team player last year after performing as one of the best players in MLS Next Pro. It’s likely that Firmino will get his second start against Chicago and will look to improve on his 28 touches in 81 minutes. He finished with one shot and one chance created.

“I thought it was good, good moments. Obviously a tough game with the conditions,” Firmino said. “It was hard to get touches on the ball, tight, tight spaces, and help the team progress the ball. Unfortunately we didn’t get three points, but look to build on it, for sure.”

Firmino and striker Jamal Thiare did a good job pressing in an attempt to force the ball to Toronto’s centerbacks and then force them to make passes to the flanks.

On offense, Firmino said he was trying to find pockets of space between defenders from which he could advance the ball to the wingers. After watching film Tuesday, he said he learned that keeping the ball for another second might have made a difference in creating more chances.

“I think the final pass was harder to make with the conditions, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “We have to adapt. It was like that for Toronto as well. And then we just have to sharpen up in the final third (of the field) and the last pass.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

March 9 Atlanta United 4, New England 1

March 17 Atlanta United 2, Orlando 0

March 23 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 0

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., FOX

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., FOX

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FOX

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

July 26 vs. D.C. United in Leagues Cup, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 4 vs. Santos Laguna in Leagues Cup, 4 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.