Coming off great week of training, Atlanta United ready for Miami

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Atlanta United had two of its best training sessions in the past few weeks in is preparation for Wednesday’s pivotal MLS game against Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, according to manager Gonzalo Pineda.

The timing seems perfect because a good result for the Five Stripes may be the difference in the team making the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, or missing out for the second consecutive year.

The team has described this set of games as five consecutive finals. They didn’t win the first one because a late goal was allowed that resulted in a 1-1 draw with NYCFC. As a result, the team is in seventh place in the East, is actually tied with eighth-place Montreal on points and is just two points ahead of ninth-place D.C. United. The top seven teams will qualify for the playoffs.

“The application, the intensity, we have had very good week of training,” Pineda said. “So we are very, very happy about it. We were able to work in different things that we saw on the field that we need to improve. And the players are super-focused. I think they are getting the idea of playing four finals in two weeks.”

The theme of playing “faux” finals may seem familiar because the team was in a similar position last season. It failed to earn enough points to make the postseason. Ezequiel Barco said it is something that the players on that team remember and are trying to learn from.

“We’ve got to be able to win these games because it’s what we all want, the players, the club, everyone, is to make the playoffs,” he said.

A focus during the training sessions has been on finishing chances. It has been an issue in most games this season and was why the team could no better than draw with NYCFC despite creating several opportunities to score a second deciding goal.

After the NYCFC game, Pineda lamented how sometimes what should be simple is made too complicated, such as a pass or run. After watching film and the good training sessions, Pineda said he thinks the players understand.

“They’re very hungry,” he said. “They’re ready to go.”

Knowing that it missed an opportunity against NYCFC isn’t exclusively why the team’s recent training sessions were better. Pineda, who arrived in midseason, said he and his assistants have been gradually increasing the intensity of the sessions. The players are starting to understand the process and perform in positive ways.

“This week has been very completely unique week in terms of principles applied, game rhythm with the football, playing at pace, good finishing,” Pineda said. “So we are pleased with the preparation. Hopefully that can impact the game tomorrow and the following games because we are super happy about what we’ve seen on the field.”

Miami will be a motivated opponent.

Like Atlanta United, it is competing to make the playoffs. Unlike Atlanta United, it doesn’t control its fate. Five points behind seventh place, it must win its remaining three games and then will need help. It has won its past two games against bottom-dwellers Toronto and Cincinnati 8-1 to keep alive its slim hopes.

“We have three finals left, and we are going to fight until the end,” Miami’s Julian Carranza said, using a familiar theme.

Barco said whichever team scores first should have the advantage. Statistically, he is correct. Atlanta United is 11-3-5 when it scores first, including 8-0-3 at home.

“We know they’re going to come in and be competitive,” he said. “But we also have to show what we are able to do. We’re feeling confident and playing at home, so we’ll just have to do our best to take advantage of the spaces that Miami offers.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto 0

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0

Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

Oct. 16 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 0

Oct. 20 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE