MARIETTA, Ga. — A winless Atlanta United team – one that lifted MLS Cup just over four months ago – seek to get back on track this Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+, on DAZN in Canada) when traveling to face a struggling New England Revolution squad.
No matter who the Five Stripes play, youngsters and veterans agreed they can only focus on themselves to turn things around. Atlanta are currently tied with the 2009 Columbus Crew for the worst start by a defending champion through four games, having picked up just two points.
“There's a lot of soccer to be played and a lot of points to play for,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “But at the same time, we hold ourselves to a certain level and we haven't been good enough as a group.”
Why Atlanta hasn’t recaptured their championship-winning form is up for debate, as detailed by ESPNFC's Jeff Carlisle.
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Some chalk it up to new tactics under a new, European manager in Frank de Boer, with Carlisle reporting that "some players were chafing against [De Boer's] more conservative, more disciplined approach and that they feel like the manager is sending mixed messages with his continual changing of formations."
De Boer sang a different tune this week, though.
"We couldn't train the very small dimensions – 2-against-2 and 3-against 3 – because of the games that we played – after 3-4 days we always had a game so we couldn't do that. Now we really did it," De Boer said about the hectic start to the season. "But also about the tactics and really get into it in detail. I have a really good feeling about it. If you see the energy in the team right now it has to be positive for everybody I think.
"It's always nice to get the time to get the right approach. And [the players] are feeling that we are on the right track and we continue that – we're talking individually and with the group. I think now everybody understands from their point of view but also from our point of view as a staff what we really want from each other and as Atlanta United -- what we stand for. So I think it was a really good two weeks, but now we have to execute in the game, of course."
Others consider that the team relies on a new star player, Pity Martinez, having lost last year’s talisman Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United. Some say it’s the heavy workload the team endured to start the season, competing concurrently in the Concacaf Champions League and MLS.
Truthfully, all of these factors likely played a role and took their toll. Now, the energy seems to be changing.
“Two weeks ago we talked to each other and we said, 'OK, we have to turn the page,’” said Argentine center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, speaking in English to media Thursday. “We have to look forward and start again — put our energy here, focus here, and forget the past and think in the future. I think maybe this is why we are better [now] as a team.”
Martinez will be a key figure in helping Atlanta if they're to move out of the basement of the Eastern Conference.
The Argentine has yet to find his feet in MLS, but perhaps his freshly-minted marriage will spark him to life. Martinez traveled to his home country late last week while the team had a bye week.
“He's a new guy,” Gonzalez Pirez said with a smile. “I think he's good. Maybe it's a normal process to adapt to a new life, a new country, new people, new system, new [everything] ... He has to know and understand how we play here because it's different in Argentina. So with time maybe he will find his best version, and this is crucial for us.”