Improved focus key for Atlanta United in past 2 wins

Maintaining focus for 90 minutes has been a key for Atlanta United in its past two games, midfielder Eric Remedi said Tuesday.

The team posted wins over the L.A. Galaxy in an MLS game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week and against Orlando on Tuesday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup at Exploria Stadium.

“You see it,” Remedi said. “The last two games, if you’ve noticed, it matches the intensity of the playoff games last year. The focus has been to maintain our focus and not lose our concentration. The intensity we matched against Galaxy and tonight, is similar to the intensity in the playoff games last season.”

Keeping its focus going will continue to be a challenge because of the glut of games. Atlanta United will host NYCFC on Sunday in a key game in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Club America on Wednesday in the Campeones Cup, and then must travel to Portland to play Aug. 18. There's a short turnaround with a game at Orlando on Aug. 23, the U.S. Open Cup final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 27 and then a showdown at first-place Philadelphia on Aug. 31.

Atlanta United schedule/results

After that, Atlanta United won’t play again for two weeks.

Manager Frank de Boer has preached unwavering focus all season.

It hasn’t always happened.

Mental lapses resulted in losses at the New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Toronto and Chicago, to name a few incidents.

But the switch to the 3-5-2 formation, which de Boer said requires extreme concentration, may have helped his players find their focus.

“This system costs you a lot of energy, but mentally, to be focused every moment because a lot of times it’s one against one but if you see the flow in training and the team is doing fantastic,” he said.

Succeeding in the 3-5-2 requires players winning their individual matchups, particularly on the flanks. Justin Meram and Julian Gressel won those matchups Tuesday. After an early mistake that gave Orlando a scoring opportunity, Gressel’s defense and tackling proved too much for Nani, who switched sides. Gressel’s cross resulted in Remedi’s opening, decisive goal. Meram time and again beat Ruan with his dribbling skills.

Orlando seemed to control the game for the first 20 minutes, then Atlanta United’s central midfielders took over for the rest of the half. In the second half, until Atlanta United seized the game with another goal, its  defenders rebuffed each Lions’ attack.

“One hundred percent (focused), everybody was involved today, played really well and concentrated,” de Boer said. “This is what I want to see.”