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Turning the Page: Atlanta United Back on the Pitch Against Houston Tonight

Coming out of the international break, Atlanta United is looking to move forward and get back on track. 


It hasn’t been the most rewarding first half of the season for the Five Stripes. Atlanta’s record is 4-4-8 which has them placed at 13th in the Eastern Conference, and they haven't won at Mercedes Benz Stadium in their last five matches. 


Atlanta United went into the international break after a 3-2 loss against Charlotte FC at home. It was then announced on June 3 that the club would be parting ways with Gonzalo Pineda and that Rob Valentino would be the interim head coach. 


This break allowed for the players to step away and regroup, and come back into the season with a clean slate. The past is the past, but now it is time to move forward. 


“Everyone that has been here has shown fight, and has shown that we’re willing and ready to get out of the situation that we are in,” said Brooks Lennon to the media on Tuesday. “I think we can put a positive run of form together.” 


Midfielder Dax McCarty talked about how the younger players on the team have handled the coaching change mid season, and how impressed he has been with them. 


“The young players have been brilliant. First of all, it's difficult because most of our young guys have been gone representing their various national teams, but the other guys have been really mature about it,” said McCarty. “That's what I love about this group is that we have a mature group of young players who all have relatively good experience for their age.”

 

One of those young players is Jay Fortune, and he sat down with me on Thursday to talk about the midseason coaching change, what he learned from Pineda and how he has stepped up into a leadership role during this difficult time. 



Fortune stated how difficult it was to see Pineda go because he gave him his first opportunity with the first team. Even though he isn’t with the team anymore, Fortune feels that Pineda left him in a good spot where he can continue to grow. 


“One of the things that he harped on a lot while I was here is just always looking to play forward, playing on the half turn, trying to always find that forward pass and breaking lines. I think that's one of the biggest things,” said Fortune. “As I started to grow into the game and you start to look more into the attacking third, somebody who wants to try and be involved in one goal contributions and we talked about like the inverted crosses and picking out passes in behind to the likes of Brooks, Edwin and Caleb. That was something that we started to focus on a little bit more towards the end that I'm going to keep working towards.”


A few young players have stepped up huge for the Five Stripes this season and Fortune was one of the players who took a bigger leadership role on the field. 


“I was captain with the 2's, so I’ve had experiences with being a leader and then you come into this space, which is completely different,” said Fortune. “A lot of it is finding the balance between when to just be quiet and listen and, when it's time to speak up about things, and a lot of it was more so focused on the field, just trying to have things organized and trying to tell people where they need to be and that was kind of leadership role I was taking on.”


Fortune echoed the same message that Valentino and many other players have been saying when it comes to how Atlanta can get out of this dark time. 


“I think for us as a team, one thing we're focusing on is taking opportunities one step at a time. There’s always a mid week game or a game at the weekend, but you have to focus on the game that’s ahead of you and for us right now, it’s Houston,” said Fortune. “We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We have to try and pay attention to what’s going on now and deal with the games ahead of us so that we can still get something out of the season which we know we can.”


Atlanta United faces off against Houston Dynamo FC today at 7:30 p.m. You can watch the match on MLS Season Pass or listen to the match on 92.9 the Game with pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m.


✍️: Madison Crews


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