Editorial – Gabriel Heinze has been putting Atlanta United through double training sessions during the international break in a bid to boost their fitness, Brooks Lennon has revealed.
Though they’ve lost just once, the Five Stripes have only managed two wins from their seven MLS games under Heinze so far. Most recently, Atlanta threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Nashville prior to the international break.
Atlanta United fitness the focus for Heinze
First #ATLUTD goal in style for @Eriklopez_32 👏 pic.twitter.com/RNi3OWDkeI
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 29, 2021
Atlanta was 2-0 up with just 10 minutes to go but a late defensive collapse allowed Hany Mukhtar to net a brace, undoing all the Five Stripes’ great work.
Fitness undoubtedly played a part. After all, Atlanta has already played four games more than most thanks to their Concacaf Champions League commitments. But that is something Heinze is working hard to put right as he seeks to turn the Five Stripes into MLS Cup contenders again after their 2020 slump.
“We’ve been really honing in on our fitness,” Lennon replied when asked how Atlanta had approached the international break.
“You know, we’ve been out here, basically every single day training super hard, super long sessions. We had a couple of double sessions mixed in as well. So we’ve really focused on our fitness and now, this week, we’ve been preparing for Philadelphia and getting ready for that match on Sunday, so kind of honing in more so on the tactics this week, going into the game on Sunday.”
Atlanta takes on the Philadelphia Union this Sunday in what is already their third meeting with the reigning Supporters’ Shield champions this season after facing them in the Champions League.
The Union ran out 4-1 aggregate winners last time out, but Lennon believes it’s time for Atlanta to dish out a little “payback”.
“This is our third game against Philly this year already,” he said. “Obviously, we lost the [Champions League] game when we tied them away so we’re looking to come in on Sunday and get three points, for sure. I think the group is a little frustrated that we went down and conceded to them in the Champions League, so I think it’s time for a little payback.”
Lennon confident Atlanta can cope without Martinez
Though they’re a solid defensive outfit, Atlanta has scored just five goals from open play so far this season — the fifth-lowest amount in MLS. The Union, meanwhile, have conceded the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (five) and if the Five Stripes are to pick up three points, they’ll have to be far more incisive in the final third.
MLS teams sorted by open-play goals scored, via whoscored.com
That job will be made much more difficult by the fact that Josef Martinez remains on international duty at Copa America with Venezuela. Working his way back from an ACL injury, Martinez has scored two goals in his last four appearances. What’s more, Lisandro Lopez recently departed the club due to personal reasons.
Lennon concedes it’ll be a tough task without Martinez and that he and his teammates need to work on their play in the final third. But he’s also confident the likes of Jackson Conway and Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres can fill the void left by Martinez if called upon.
“I mean, we played basically a full season without Joseph last year,” Lennon replied when asked how Martinez’s absence could affect Atlanta. “We’ve had guys come in like Jackson and Cubo and these guys that are on the roster now. They think they deserve the chance to go and prove that they deserve to play.
“These guys have been training really hard with us every single day and, hopefully, they can provide for us in the final third. I think that’s one thing that our group needs to improve on a little bit is really getting that final ball and finishing better. So hopefully these guys can step in and do that for us.”