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Atlanta United ‘getting into the flow’ ahead of Philadelphia Union game

Mar 10, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson (left) pressures FC Cincinnati forward Fanendo Adi (9) in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

MARIETTA, Ga. — Frank de Boer’s tactical approach has been put under a microscope amid Atlanta United’s slow start to 2019. Fans have called for a return to the sort of vertical, up-tempo system deployed under former coach Tata Martino, and players appeared uncomfortable in the team’s first five games.

After an improved performance and a 1-0 win over Monterrey (which was not enough to overturn a 3-0 deficit going into the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals), everyone is feeling better. A busy schedule to open the season and an early commitment to establish defensive roles left little time for work on the attack between matches.

“Now we are thinking in the other goal,” center back Leandro González-Pírez said Friday at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground. “It’s a new system, and [de Boer] has been working a lot on the defensive part. Now we are thinking on the attacking part, and this is what we like. Maybe this is why we recovered our essence, to play in attack and play free.”

De Boer believes fans and pundits should not focus so much on the formation, which can change with the introduction of different players and in order to dominate specific opponents. Miles Robinson, who has anchored Atlanta’s back line this year, is confident the team will continue to improve.

“We’re getting into the flow of things,” Robinson said.

De Boer wary of Union

Philadelphia has failed to get a result through two games this year, but de Boer is not taking his Week 3 opponent lightly.

“They’ve created the most chances of all teams in MLS,” he said. “It means that they are doing something good. We are aware of that.”

Philadelphia will be without high-profile newcomer Marco Fabián. The Mexico international midfielder received a red card last week for stomping on the chest of Sporting Kansas City winger Johnny Russell. Fabian insisted the foul was accidental, but the Union did not appeal his suspension.

Bello needs more time off

George Bello underwent an MRI and will need another week off to recover from an undisclosed injury. The MRI results were “not so bad.”

“One week and a little bit of rest, and then he can start the engine again,” de Boer said Friday.

The 17-year-old homegrown started at left wing back in the season-opening Concacaf Champions League game at CS Herediano in Costa Rica, but has been unable to appear with the senior team since. Bello played 65 minutes for ATL UTD 2 last weekend and was initially listed as available for selection Wednesday against Monterrey. He was then deemed to be not fully match fit and held out of the 18.

“We have to wait and see how he’s going to react after that week,” de Boer said, “but we have a positive feeling about that.”

Escobar nearing return

Franco Escobar was not training with the first team Friday. The defender has been cleared for contact and is expected to rejoin the first team next week.

“Then it’s step-by-step trying to get him involved in the games,” according to de Boer.

Escobar, who broke his collarbone on the first day of preseason camp in January, is expected to play with ATL UTD 2 before he is ready for minutes with the senior team.

How about those rings?

González-Pírez is impressed with the championship bling players received for their MLS Cup triumph. “Oh, that ring’s amazing,” he said Friday. “It’s too expensive, too.”

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