On MLS' 2017 opening weekend, after two years as Atlanta United FC technical director, Carlos Bocanegra finally got to see the team he’d helped assemble take the field. And although Atlanta fell 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls, Bocanegra took some positives from the match.
“Overall, I thought they left it out there on the field, which is the most important, and we’ll continue to get better,” Bocanegra said this week. “The whole city was behind us, and the guys played with a lot of heart out there.”
Atlanta came out aggressively, trying to hit the Red Bulls fast on the break or in the run of play, something Bocanegra said they’d been working on throughout preseason. He believes they have the right players to maintain their pressing style throughout the long and rigorous MLS season, but admitted they couldn’t sustain it for the full 90 minutes in their first match together as a team.
“For us, we had 40, 50 minutes of some decent play, but again, how do we close out a game?" He said. "When we’re leading, what do we do to kind of kill it off?”
Bocanegra also gave credit to the Red Bulls for sticking to the pressing style and system they’ve used with such success for the past few seasons. Still, he emphasized he wasn’t making excuses for his own team’s poor second half performance. He said Atlanta needs to refocus on the previous tactical work they’ve done, with added work on game management. Yet he remains optimistic that a growing understanding between the players about finishing off a match will come with time.
“It’s just getting familiar with each other and learning how to win as a group,” he said. “We need to learn quickly about that, because you don’t get too many second chances at this level.”
Atlanta’s next opportunity to pick up points comes this Sunday, Mar. 12, against Minnesota United for their fellow expansion team's home MLS debut (5 pm ET, ESPN 2 in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada). Bocanegra said they’ll have to make an adjustment with midfielder Carlos Carmona suspended for the match after receiving a red card late in the game against New York. But center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who had to exit the match after taking a knock in the calf, is fully fit and available for selection.
Atlanta will return home the following weekend against the Chicago Fire before heading out on a four-game road trip. Bocanegra said the team came away from Sunday’s inaugural match excited to play in front of an “electric” home atmosphere throughout the season.
“The players are realizing just how big the club has the potential to be and with the city behind us,” he said. “It’s going to be a special place to play here in Atlanta.”