Better practices may lead to better Atlanta United against Cincinnati

July 10, 2019 Kennesaw: Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez collides with St. Louis forward Russell Cicerone as they battle for the ball in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals soccer match on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Kennesaw.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
July 10, 2019 Kennesaw: Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez collides with St. Louis forward Russell Cicerone as they battle for the ball in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals soccer match on Wednesday, July 10, 2019, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: compton@ajc.com

Credit: compton@ajc.com

As a group of about 5-10 Atlanta United players stayed after Tuesday’s training session to continue working out, manager Frank de Boer said “he has a good feeling” about Wednesday’s MLS game at Cincinnati.

Last week, players weren’t staying after training, and Atlanta United lost to Columbus 3-1 on Saturday, with de Boer saying afterward that the preceding training sessions weren’t good enough. They were so poor that an unhappy Josef Martinez walked off the field at one point.

The sessions have been good the past three days.

Atlanta United may have regained its focus ahead of a key game at Cincinnati.

“It’s been much more positive,” de Boer said. “Yesterday it was still the second day, but we did some short-sided games. It was good spirit, the quality was there. Today was good spirit but also the quality. Much, much, much more positive.”

That’s good for Atlanta United because Wednesday’s game should be feisty. Both teams are trying to achieve goals. They are different goals, but still goals.

Atlanta United is competing to finish in first in the East. It has 48 points and is in third place. It trails first-place NYCFC by nine points, but has played one fewer game. It trails second-place Philadelphia by four points but has played one fewer game. It leads fourth-place Toronto by three points but has played two fewer games.

“We’ve clinched playoffs, but we want to get in the best position possible for the playoffs,” midfielder Emerson Hyndman said. “We want to go into the playoffs in a good mood, very confident. The best way to do that is to win games. I think that’s what we are playing for at this point.”

Cincinnati, the worst team in MLS with just 21 points, nine less than the next worst total, has players fighting for next season’s jobs under new manager Ron Jans.

“So it doesn’t matter that they’re in last place or that they’re having a bad season,” centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said. “These guys are trying to prove themselves and show the coach that they belong and that they have a spot in the team next year. It doesn’t matter where they are in the standings. They’re going to come out and give everything they have and we have to go out and show that same kind of attitude and give everything we have in this game, because we know what we’re up against.”

As if they need a reminder, Atlanta United only needs to look back to the 1-1 draw when the teams played on March 10. After taking a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute on Martinez’s first league goal this season, Cincinnati tied the game on a goal by Roland Lamah in the 86th minute. Atlanta United dominated possession (67-33) and shots on goal (4-1), but was undone by a counterattack.

That may sound familiar because three of Columbus’ goals came from counterattacks. Philadelphia’s final two goals  in the game before Columbus also came from counterattacks.

De Boer said the goals allowed to Columbus came from a lack of patience on offense. Instead of circulating the ball while bringing up defenders and then waiting on the higher-percentage play, the team tried to force too many passes while the defenders were still moving into position. Columbus forced turnovers and took advantage of the out-of-place defenders to secure the win. Hyndman said the players and coaches have worked to identify those moments to make sure the team doesn’t make the same mistakes.

But the result, the performance and the previous training sessions combined to aggravate Atlanta United’s players, which may be a good sign for Wednesday.

“Today in the meeting I said a bad result can always happen, but not in the way we played,” de Boer said.  “That was a bad result and a bad performance. Now we have to show that we can have a good performance and probably we will have a good result.”

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