Training day: Master vs Apprentice

Everyone loves the classic tale of the master and the apprentice. Frankly, this weekend’s Atlanta United vs Seattle Sounders game has one of the best underlying stories of the MLS season as Gonzalo Pineda prepares to face Brian Schmetzer for the first time since the former left Seattle for the Five Stripes.

To set the stage both teams need points, both clubs have a ton of talent and both managers are pragmatic in their approach to every game. Atlanta, however, is going through a massive transition with the exodus of Darren Eales, while Seattle is constantly leaning on its dynasty status after winning the Concacaf Champions League earlier this year. Brian Schmetzer is definitely not going to take it easy with Pineda, so how is the former Padawan preparing for the upcoming showdown? For some insight, let’s take a look at the buzz around the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Center as the battle nears.

In what was inevitably to become a hectic Thursday, the morning got off to a fairly leisurely start as the players poured into the training ground. Most notably, Brooks Lennon was back with the squad alongside Ronald Hernandez as both were upgraded to questionable status for Saturday’s showdown. Andrew Gutman also made his presence known when the group started the rondos, and thought Gutman played a few minutes last weekend, the sight of so many players returning from injury was a sight for (literal) sore eyes.

Georgia’s silent morning was quickly cut short, however, as the coaching staff quickly picked up the pace and the players reacted with earnestness. Both rondo groups were energetic, loud and a bit rowdy as the weather got warmer, and the guys seemed to really enjoy the start of the competition. Edwin Mosquera, Atlanta’s new winger and the club’s first Colombian player, seemed to fit in perfectly with the group made up of talents like Luiz Araujo, Josef Martinez, Marcelino Moreno, Santiago Sosa and many more. Gonzalo Pineda then mentioned that Mosquera was actually progressing much faster than the staff expected, and that one of Atlanta’s fitness trainers had actually traveled to hang out with Edwin for over a week. to let him know.

The young winger took the time to answer questions after training, touching on a variety of topics related to his arrival in the United States and training with the club. He specifically mentioned that he was grateful to be in his shoes and that he hopes to be an inspiration to other young players who may come from a similar background. He also described himself as very direct and quick, and a player who likes to go up against 1v1 players, a sentiment shared by Pineda when asked what Mosquera brings to the team.

Young players (and admittedly older ones too) may be surprised the first time they step into a wide-open Mercedes-Benz stadium with the atmosphere that the fans convey. Mosquera, however, was quick to dispel any concerns about the pressure, noting that he played in Buenos Aires’ famed Bombonera (which needs eardrums). Pineda also pointed out that Edwin can play both flanks as a true winger, so it’s likely fans will eventually see him in a potential late game role for Caleb Wiley, Luiz Araujo, Brooks Lennon or Ronald Hernandez, especially if the team keeps a form that allows more defensive stability for the wings.

Gonzalo Pineda then addressed the recent drama surrounding comments about Thiago Almada. He mentioned that he admittedly didn’t choose the best words to describe how he has to make decisions about who starts and plays, and that he regretted the fact that what he said even implied that Almada was all except a professional. Pineda also pointed out that he gives players the freedom to choose certain additional workouts, such as watching a movie on their own or going to the gym or on the pitch, and that everything is taken into account in the decisions that are made.

Of course, the main topic was always going to be Pineda’s preparation for the match against his former club and mentor. The gaffer was quick to dive into how he thought Schmetzer would approach the game, noting that he absolutely believed the game wasn’t going to be stretched, at least initially. It calls into question the team’s ability to maintain their phenomenal possession stat, currently second in MLS at 57.5%, and subsequently convert their chances as they battle against a highly disciplined Seattle side. Unfortunately, that stat and the number of goals scored don’t sync up as they should, and Pineda reiterated that the lack of vertical runs behind has punished them all season.

Practice ended and some of the players got into a competition around the table in Teqball (soccer-table tennis, whatever we want to call it) which quickly turned into a heated feud between Alex by John, Andrew Gutman, Luiz Araujo, Matheus Rossetto, Ronald Hernandez and a few others. The main takeaway from the impromptu session, however, was the feeling of genuine camaraderie that only helps build chemistry for the players on the pitch. They were having a good time, and that’s always a good sign.

But wait, there’s more.

A matchweek of these proportions can be a crucial turning point in a season; admittedly Atlanta United fans hope any game will be this moment in what has been a difficult season so far. However, breaking with the norm is sometimes the best remedy. Brian Schmetzer said the same when he spoke to Atlanta United media on Thursday before the Sounders headed to the airport.

It’s very clear Pineda and Schmetzer have the utmost respect for each other, and while this game sees them as enemies for 90 minutes, there’s something incredibly soothing about an Atlanta fan. hearing a coach of Schmetzer’s magnitude basically espousing that “it’s okay everything’s fine. Sounder’s longtime guru also mentioned that every coach can come out of situations like Atlanta’s current predicament all the better off adversity, and that he believes Pineda will absolutely lead the Five Stripes to the playoffs.He also said that one of the qualities of Pineda that fans can take comfort in, despite the form, is that he absolutely despises the defeat.

Of course, Pineda has to filter out a ton of outside noise right now. Schmetzer’s words are wise and true, so let’s hope the apprentice is able to put them into practice as he continues to battle injuries, a learning curve, and sheer stupid luck. Also, the club is going through a time of transition, so there are plenty of distractions.

One of those distractions is the impending departure of Darren Eales and the search for a new president. Schmetzer even went so far as to mention that he had also heard the same fan rumors that Garth Lagerway would be a potential interviewee for the job, and specifically described him as a “hot commodity.” At this point, however, no such interview has yet taken place, and there’s no official word on whoever is in the crosshairs.

Thus, the lines have been drawn, the battlefield prepared. The training day is over and now there is a sense of calm before the storm. Could this be the game that puts Atlanta United back on track? Or does it become another bump in the road as the 2022 season slowly falls out of reach? Saturday is the big day, and all that’s left to do is sit down and… pop a bottle of Newcastle?

From a personal perspective receiving a Newcastle 12 pack from Darren Eales as part of the media wasn’t on any of my bingo cards but I’m incredibly grateful and yes truly saddened once more than a such personality would not be with the club much longer. It’s going to be wonderful to see how the city sends him on this new adventure across the pond. Now where’s the bottle opener?

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