September 30, 2022

It’s hard to be mentally consistent and physically productive on the field when the backbone of training has been ripped out.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda has done a believable job of piecing together a starting XI every game to cover injuries. He was only able to select the same starting XI twice in consecutive games. It’s hard to establish chemistry and create trust when there’s no consistency in alignment.

Here’s what’s working and what needs improvement in the team’s remaining 21 games:

What works

The South American midfielder. Marcelino Moreno, Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo have combined to score seven of the team’s 20 goals and nine of their 14 assists. The production increased as they played together over the past five games. A hamstring injury to Araujo in the first half of the opener and the plan to bring Almada into the line-up prevented the trio from starting together in the first eight games. Each player showed bits of individual brilliance. They are now learning to play together in Pineda’s system and tactics with Moreno on the left, Almada as attacking midfielder and Araujo on the right. They change position during matches.

The central midfielder. Pineda likes the duo of Matheus Rossetto and Franco Ibarra in the middle of the 4-2-3-1 formation. Really, it came out of necessity due to Santiago Sosa’s injuries and Emerson Hyndman’s recovery from ACL surgery last year. Sosa and Hyndman should be fully healthy for the next game, which will give Pineda options. Hyndman is very good at moving the ball forward quickly. Pineda said the data they track during workouts shows Hyndman is highly productive. Rossetto has improved a lot in this area. He already has 46 progressive assists this season. He was just 47 last season.

The wingers. Brooks Lennon is third in MLS in assists (39) and has scored two goals. Andrew Gutman, before suffering a quad injury against Nashville that will keep him out for the next 8-12 weeks, was a dynamo up and down the left side. Caleb Wiley, if healthy, will likely slip into Gutman’s place. Wiley, who is 17, has enormous potential.

What to improve

Manufacture of forwards. Ronaldo Cisneros appeared to be the answer when Martinez underwent arthroscopic surgery in early April. Cisneros’ hat trick against Chicago on May 7 was an example of his potential. He only scored once in the next four games. Dom Dwyer has come off the bench to score in the last two games. Martinez, who has scored two goals in six appearances this season, is also back, spending 45 minutes against Columbus. He and Pineda said they were going to spend the international break improving his fitness so he could start. The team needs someone to produce regularly at the position.

Central defenders. Due to Robinson’s season-ending injury and injuries to George Campbell, Pineda was forced to use a duo of Alan Franco and Alex De John, who were seen as a depth element before the season, as starters. De John has performed well but is not as fast or as athletic as Robinson. As was the case last season, Franco is prone to at least one hard-hitting error per game, which negates the good work he does the rest of the time. Campbell is healthy and training. It is likely that he will be paired with Franco. Campbell is also not Robinson, but he is faster and more athletic than De John or Franco. His inclusion in the 11 should solidify the defence.

Defend set pieces. Of the 20 goals conceded by the team, eight came directly from set pieces (corners or free kicks) or in the second phase of defending from a free kick when the opponent wins a cleared ball. It’s not good. Pineda and the players said the problem was a constant lack of concentration, such as in the first minute of the game against Columbus when Jonathan Mensah headed wide away from his defender. Giving up goals from set pieces is a proven way to turn three points into one or none.

Results against good teams. Atlanta United has played five games against teams above the seven-team playoff lines in the Eastern and Western Conferences. He won none. It’s 0-3-2 against Montreal (two games), Miami, Cincinnati and Nashville. Last season, the team beat just one team that qualified for the playoffs. Many players have said that one of the team’s goals is to stage a playoff game. To do so, he must finish at least as the fourth seed. To do that, he needs to start producing results against the top teams, and he’s going to have a lot of opportunities. Of its remaining 21 games, 13 are against teams currently in the 14-team playoff group.

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Atlanta United 2022 MLS Schedule

February 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, DC United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 vs. Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 in Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 c. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at LA Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 in Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 28 vs. DC United, 4 p.m. UNIV

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 in Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

September 10 c. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

September 14 in Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas