Down two defenders, Atlanta United relying on depth & leadership vs. LAFC

Tata Martino - Atlanta United - reacts during 4-0 loss to Houston on Opening Day 2018

MARIETTA, Ga. – Though it’s still early in the MLS season, it’s already become a time of trials for Atlanta United. The Five Stripes are battling multiple injuries and suspensions as the team approaches a pivotal moment in the season with a three-game stretch against Eastern Conference-leading New York City FC and the two red hot teams from LA.

First on the docket though is LAFC – an exciting expansion team with a dynamic attack, a veteran manager and a chip on their shoulders coming off a humbling defeat. But Atlanta will be without two of their regular defenders – center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (suspension) and left back Greg Garza (injury). All those things mixed together creates a tough task for Atlanta come Saturday (5 pm ET | ESPN).

“That’s just team sports,” said Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “One guy goes down with an injury or suspension and the next guy has to be ready to play. Luckily for us, we’ve got a lot of guys who are good on the ball who can step in.”

It’s one thing to have capable players, but talent is wasted if players aren’t in lockstep with their teammates tactically to ensure the team is cohesive and defensively solid. That’s something central midfielder Darlington Nagbe said has been a point of emphasis recently for the team.

“Last week we stressed communication a lot, especially when we are pressing higher up the field and guys are leaving their man and moving higher up the field,” Nagbe told media after training Thursday. “Communication is key, but it’s important to train [for these situations] as well and make sure every guy knows what they’re supposed to do, whether they’re starting or coming off the bench.”

That communication and cohesion is developed by leaders on the field, and there isn’t a more impressive leader donning the five stripes than team captain Michael Parkhurst, who head coach Tata Martino holds in the highest regard.

“As a player, [Parkhurst] has more than 10 years of experience and has won a championship with Columbus. Everything I have to say about his leadership is positive,” Martino said. “[The captain] is not just a player who is going up and talking to the referee during games. It’s a player who leads the team on and off the field. We want someone who is honest, who is respectful, and who provides a good example for the team.”