Atlanta United players huddle up as they prepare to play FC Cincinnati Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Refreshed Atlanta United ready for Columbus

After playing seven games in 24 days, Atlanta United got a blessed three-day weekend to refresh and recharge, with the players returning to training Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s game at the Columbus Crew.

Captain Michael Parkhurst and goalkeeper Brad Guzan said they liked what they saw from their teammates on a windy, cool morning at the training facility in Marietta.

“Guys had good fight, good spirit,” Parkhurst said. “That was a grind that we went through. That recharge will hopefully be a boost to us. It will only be a boost if we use it to our advantage on Saturday night.”

Fight is something that the team simply didn’t have the energy to show much of after so many games in such a compact schedule, complete with more than 6,000 miles of travel to Costa Rica and back, to Washington, D.C., and to Monterrey, Mexico, and back.

So, seeing the fighting spirit again seemed like good news, according to Parkhurst and Guzan. In addition to being knocked out of the Champions League, the defending MLS champs have only two points from their first three league games and haven’t looked like the same aggressive team from the previous two seasons.

“Have that buzz, have that eagerness, have that freshness,” Guzan said. “… What your body is telling you to do, your legs are actually able to do it.”

Though six players haven’t participated in training for the past week because they are away on international duty with the national teams from the U.S., Paraguay, Venezuela and Argentina, Parkhurst said manager Frank de Boer was able to work on game plans for the Crew. The team last week spent some time working on the formation that it will use. De Boer has tried several this season, mostly sticking with a 3-4-3. At the end of its most recent game, a 1-1 draw against Philadelphia, the team finished with a 4-2-3-1, which is a formation it used most of the previous two seasons under former manager Gerardo Martino.

The players who were away with their national teams are expected to return late Tuesday or Wednesday. It remains to be seen how much of the game plan they will get to learn or be a part of because the team will travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.

The trip is another bit of scheduling weirdness. After Atlanta United plays at Columbus, the team will have another bye, and then play at New England on April 13. After seven games in less than a month, the team will play two games in one month.

Parkhurst said Atlanta United must take advantage of these two chances.

“We are looking up in the standings, we don’t like doing that,” he said. “We want to gain points as quickly as possible. We want to go to Columbus and get three points. Mentally, it’s an important game because coming off a poor performance all you want to do is get back on the field and play again. 

“So, we know that after Columbus we have another weekend off. We want to make sure that we can go into that week with our head held high, knowing we had a good performance, we got three points, we are feeling good.”

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