MARIETTA, Ga. — Coming off their first Major League Soccer win of 2019, Atlanta United players and coaches believe the season may be on an upswing.
The words of Lou Brown in Major League 2 come to mind: “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’s two in a row. If we win one tomorrow, that’s called ‘a winning streak.’ It has happened before.”
The Five Stripes (1-2-2, 5 points) were accustomed to long unbeaten stretches in their first two seasons. After an uncharacteristically slow start this year, they are already nine points behind first-place D.C. United in the Eastern Conference and 14 points off Los Angeles Football Club’s Supporters’ Shield pace. This week in training, players who spoke with reporters said last weekend’s 2-0 win over the New England Revolution needs to be a springboard for a good run that will allow Atlanta to climb the table. The next step comes Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET against FC Dallas (4-2-1, 13 points) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Manager Frank de Boer and defenders Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson addressed the media Thursday. All appeared to be in high spirits going into the matchup against Dallas.
“We want, of course, desperately to win at home,” de Boer said. “It’s good for our fans, their feeling, and also our for our players. But we are also facing a very good opponent. I think they have won three of their last four games, so that means they are on a good mood and they have a lot of confidence. But we have to try to get that confidence that we showed already against New England, that we [are] making progress even better than the play in New England.
“I have a good feeling about it, but we have a lot of respect for the opponent. That’s for sure.”
Much of the postgame discussion following the New England win has centered on Atlanta’s rejuvenated attack. That game also featured the Five Stripes’ first clean sheet of the young MLS season. De Boer attributed the defensive performance to his players’ work in training over the previous two weeks. The team locked down its responsibilities without the ball and as a result, it rarely allowed the Revolution to penetrate the Atlanta penalty area.
“Everybody understood their job,” Parkhurst said. “Everyone did their job defensively, top to bottom. We put good pressure high up the field against them. We kept them out of the box for the most part.
“Everyone just put in a really good, hard-working 90 minutes, and that’s what it takes. You can’t take plays off and you can’t take minutes off, especially defensively, in this league, and we didn’t do that against New England. Hopefully we can bring that same energy against Dallas.”
When in possession, Dallas takes the modern approach of building out of the back, but the team is also dangerous on the counter. Colombian winger Michael Barrios is one of the faster players in MLS and will cause problems if he is allowed to get on the ball in space. Paxton Pomykal is the player to watch. Pomykal, a 19-year-old homegrown product, has broken out as a star attacking midfielder this season. In seven games (six starts), he has two goals and an assist. Pomykal has taken eight shots this year.
Atlanta will be without midfielder Eric Remedi, who suffered a concussion against New England, this Saturday. Fullback George Bello and midfielder Kevin Kratz also are out, still recovering from groin and calf injuries, respectively. Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez entered the game against the Revs as a substitute, but de Boer says the 2018 South American Footballer of the Year is still not 100 percent in his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Dallas defender Ryan Hollingsworth feels good about his side’s chances, telling MLSSoccer.com he is “confident we can go into their place and really dictate the game.” Parkhurst hopes Hollingsworth’s comment was genuine.
“Hopefully they do plan on dictating the game, because then that gives us an opportunity to press and turn them over and be dangerous,” the captain said. “It’s difficult for us when teams come and they pack it in, and they don’t want to play, and they just want to defend and go on the counter. Hopefully they do open up and want to play and that’ll make for a good game because we want to do the same thing and they’re a team that likes to press as well. Hopefully it’ll be an entertaining game that way.”
Perhaps emboldened with the confidence of youth, Robinson, Atlanta’s 22-year-old emerging star at centerback, believes Dallas will not have an easy time. Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s artificial surface may pose a challenge to the visitors, and the Five Stripes have zero losses in their past 15 home games.
“It’s definitely going to be tough for them, coming to the Benz,” he said. “We always play great at home. We’re always energetic and willing to fight for the whole game. So that’s going to be tough.”