Centerback Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Brad Guzan are available to participate for Atlanta United in Saturday’s friendly at Chattanooga, according to manager Gonzalo Pineda.
Both players suffered ruptured Achilles tendons in separate MLS games last season.
Both have been fully participating in the team’s training sessions. Pineda wouldn’t say if that means the players are on track to start the season-opening game against San Jose on Feb. 25.
“They look pretty good,” he said. “At times it’s hard for me to pull them out of training sessions, but we have to remember they were out for a long time, and we have to be careful with those two. So at times, I’ve been pulling them out of session, even though they are looking great. It’s not because they can cannot do something is because we have to manage their load back to normal.”
Fullback Andrew Gutman said having Guzan in the lineup is important to the effectiveness of the defense. Guzan appeared in seven of the team’s 34 games last season.
“Brad holds everyone accountable,” Gutman said. “You know, and just his presence, and his voice makes you a little bit more aware.”
Pineda said the first 11 -- he didn’t want to call them all starters because the team is still working to add three players -- likely will play for 45 minutes. A second group, which will include some players from the team’s academy, will play in the second 45.
The proposed time played is a slightly different approach than last year, when potential starters minutes were increased incrementally until the season-opening match. The change is happening this preseason because the team already played one closed-door intrasquad scrimmage last weekend. So, the first group of players has some minutes.
Pineda said the most important thing he wants from Saturday is no injuries. With the exception of Ozzie Alonso (recovering from ACL), Ajani Fortune (unknown) and Derrick Etienne, everyone is healthy. Santiago Sosa suffered a finger injury during training that required a cast, but Pineda described it as not serious. Etienne has been doing a mix of some individual work and some with the team as he recovers from an injury suffered with Columbus last season.
The second thing Pineda said he wants to see Saturday is a good shape and effort from the team on defense. He said they have worked very hard on forming a solid middle block that makes it tough for opponents to penetrate through lines. Guzan and Robinson, who appeared in nine matches last season, should help. A middle block is a defensive tactic to protect the field’s middle third.
The third thing Pineda hopes to see is good build-out play from Guzan and others on the back line, a group that should include JuanJo Purata, Brooks Lennon and Andrew Gutman.
Gutman said the team will continue to try to dominate possession and break Chattanooga’s lines.
Pineda didn’t speak directly to shot selection Friday, but it’s something he mentioned last week. He wants the team to take a higher-percentage shots. Though it finished third in MLS in expected goals (55.8), it finished tied for last in goals per shots on target (26%). Quality over volume may be key.
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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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