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Atlanta United gets a break after hectic start to 2019 season

Atlanta United midfielder Eric Remedi dribbles during the 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union on March 17, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Karl L. Moore/Atlanta United)
Atlanta United midfielder Eric Remedi dribbles during the 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union on March 17, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Karl L. Moore/Atlanta United)

MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United, minus the players called up to their respective national teams for this FIFA international window, returned to work at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground Wednesday after two deserved off days. The Five Stripes played to a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, completing a seven-games-in-24-days opening act to the 2019 season.

“It’s definitely been difficult,” Darlington Nagbe told Pro Soccer USA. “In terms of preparing for an opponent — playing one game and then getting rid of that game and then focusing on the next game and another opponent — I’d say that’s been the most difficult part.”

Atlanta next plays at the Columbus Crew on March 30, giving the 2018 MLS Cup champions an extended break and the chance to dive deep into manager Frank de Boer’s tactics for the first time since preseason. The Five Stripes will look to build on what was accomplished in the March 13 1-0 win over Monterrey (which advanced out of that Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series on a 3-1 aggregate scoreline). The home victory against los Rayados was Atlanta’s best performance so far this season.

“The results haven’t been what we’ve become accustomed to in Atlanta,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said, “ but the pieces are there, and it’s just about rekindling that. And maybe doing something that you’re most comfortable with is the easiest way sometimes, whether that’s formation, whether that’s personnel or whether that’s just playing at home. I think it was a few things in that Monterrey game that attributed to that [success].”

Nagbe OK with USMNT absence

The 28-year-old midfielder has earned 25 caps for the United States men’s national team, but he has yet to receive a call from new manager Gregg Berhalter. Not to worry: After a short offseason, abbreviated preseason due to a personal absence and hectic start to this year, Berhalter has allowed Nagbe to rest his legs during the January and March camps.

“He gave me a call and asked me how I felt, and I told him I was just getting back into it,” Nagbe said Wednesday. “Obviously I didn’t have as many games in preseason as I would have liked and at the time my knee was bothering me, so I think he just made the decision to leave me out for this camp, which I agree with.

“I think he’s doing a great job with the guy’s he’s called in so far, and whenever he’s ready to call me in, I’ll be ready.”

Remedi comfortable with new midfield role

When Eric Remedi signed from Banfield in Argentina last summer, the common perception among fans was that he had been brought in to serve as a midfield destroyer, shielding the back line from opposing attacks. Remedi did play in a holding role under former manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, but under de Boer, he has greater involvement going forward. The midfielder has been tasked with carrying the ball and making more incisive passes, and he is regularly working in the attacking third.

Remedi believes he is well suited for his new job.

“I’ve played in that role before, but maybe it’s been a while, because lately I’ve been playing more defensive,” Remedi said through an interpreter Wednesday. “It’s something that I like, because I like having the ball and I like getting forward. I’m here for whatever the coach needs me [to do] … wherever he needs me to play, as long as I’m doing my best to help the group.”

El Pity needs more time

It’s been a tough start for Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, the 2018 South American Footballer of the Year who led River Plate to the Copa Libertadores title. The attacking star was a high-profile signing in January, but through seven games, he has not recorded a goal or assist and he has looked out of synch with teammates. Martínez isn’t getting much of a break during this international window since he is with the Argentina senior team, but a more upcoming relaxed league schedule may give him a better chance to embed with Atlanta.

“Pity has only been here for a short period of time, so it’s natural that he’s going to have to get used to the league,” Remedi said. “He was also coming off of a long season in Argentina. He played through December, so he had a really short break, but I think he is getting used to everything.”

Following the Philadelphia game, de Boer named the artificial surface at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as one of the elements Martínez needs to adapt to in his new home. As a player who went through the same learning curve last season, Remedi isn’t concerned with that part of El Pity’s transition.

“The surface, there’s really not that big of a difference [to natural grass],” Remedi said. “Maybe the ball bounces a little different, but we play all of our home games there, so we get used to it pretty quickly. Pity is a player who has great technical ability, so I’m sure he’s going to get used to it soon.”

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