Atlanta United hit the road for game one in a best-of-three MLS Cup playoffs series against Columbus Crew, inspiring head coach Gonzalo Pineda to challenge his players in the individual battles they’ll face at Lower.com Field.
One very important individual for Atlanta, the MLS assists leader Thiago Almada, is set to miss the contest after being sent off in the second half against FC Cincinnati on Decision Day.
Almada stands as the Five Stripes‘ best player and integral to how Pineda wants his side to operate, creating a question of: Will Pineda choose another player to play in his role, or will he change the formation up entirely for game one before Almada is back for game two?
The head coach explained that there is one player in particular that could become Atlanta’s number 10 for a game:
“Yeah, it’s one of the possibilities. Again, it’s really hard to replicate exactly the quality that Thiago has. So, we have to rely more on the team,” Pineda said when asked about the Georgia international Saba Lobjandize taking on a more creative role.
The former Seattle Sounders assistant also went on to say that the Five Stripes strive to play as more of a team than relying on one sole player, but that the 22-year-old’s individual quality helps so much in the final third.
“We normally do that (playing as a team). But specifically for that area of the field, where Thiago just takes care of that area, and is creative. But we’ll come up with a good plan.”
Atlanta scored 66 goals across the entire regular season, only second-best to their first round opponents Columbus Crew. Both teams like to play the game on their terms with possession, suffocating teams deep in their own half.
“It’s a good battle, in terms of tactics, in terms of players, as well… [There’s] similar rosters, similar ideas… at times when this [matchup] happens I say it’s up to the players. It’s even more up to, you know, ‘this is my individual battle here,'” he said.
“Who’s gonna win that battle? Who’s gonna want it more? Who really wants to succed? At times it’s about that, in these type of games where you probably neutralize each other with tactics,” he added.
Game one is set for November 1 at Lower.com Field, as Atlanta looks to upset the Crew without their star midfielder.