With just one game under his belt as Atlanta United head coach, Gonzalo Pineda is still very much navigating an adjustment period.
The new Five Stripes boss made his sideline debut just before the ongoing international break, with Atlanta coming up short in a 2-0 home defeat to Nashville SC. With two weeks of training between then and Atlanta's next match, which pits them in a home rivalry bout against Orlando City SC Friday night (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes), Pineda told reporters that there have been three points of emphasis in training.
"First one is the mentality," Pineda said. "So after a tough loss, bringing the players back into the working hard, training hard and competition. The competitive side is very important, a team that first of all competes at high intensity and they want to win. That’s something that was very important last week. I think I saw better behaviors in terms of counter-pressure, immediate pressure, reacting better towards a goal against, wanting to win every little game, every possession game. That was much better.
"Then obviously the tactics. The game plan against Orlando, understanding what we are trying to do. And obviously managing personnel, managing people, knowing the players better, who might be in if the internationals are out and understanding better what can be the best squad we can play against Orlando. So those three things were the main focus the last two weeks and we are very happy with the outcome."
There would be no better way to kickstart Pineda's tenure than beating the Lions at Mercedez-Benz Stadium, although the former Seattle Sounders assistant may have to navigate a shorthanded roster – aside from lingering injury concerns. Defenders Miles Robinson and George Bello will have a short turnaround as they return from US men's national team duty, as will superstar forward Josef Martinez, who has been away with Venezuela alongside fullback Ronald Hernandez.
Those players' availabilities will be based on how heavy their workloads are in September's World Cup qualifiers, and how quickly they're able to return to Atlanta and recover.
"We have to wait until [Wednesday's] games," Pineda said. "The US players probably have some chances to be available because they’ll have a day and a half to recover."
One player who certainly should feature is new Designated Player Luiz Araujo. The deadline day acquisition from Ligue 1's Lille has shown flashes of dynamism through his first three games with Atlanta, but is yet to find the scoresheet.
Getting Araujo as much cohesion as possible with his fellow attackers has been another point of emphasis on the training ground, Pineda said.
"I think he’s been improving," Pineda said. "We’ve been trying to do specific sessions with [the attackers] to have confidence in the attack, options, patterns of play in the final third, where if they succeed some of the times they have challenges and have to identify the solutions on their own. And I think overall it has been better, the chemistry between those attacking players is getting better every training session. It’s fun to watch them combine with first-time passes and they are in behind the backline. It’s just fun."
The 25-year-old Brazilian winger said he feels as though Friday's match will be his breakthrough. He also added that he's looking forward to facing Alexandre Pato's team, as has a personal connection with the Orlando City forward dating back to their overlap at Brazilian side Sao Paulo FC. Pato is an injury doubt, though Lions' head coach Oscar Pareja said he's nearing a return.
"I’ve seen Pato play, I’ve actually trained with him when I was an academy player at Sao Paulo and he was with the first team," Araujo said.
"We trained a couple times together. It’s not only good for me to see Pato play but good for the league. He’s a great person, great player, has a lot of quality and I think we’re going to work hard to win the game on Friday."