It’s been a jam-packed three-and-a-half week stretch for Atlanta United.
After playing only three games in the entire month of August, the Five Stripes embarked on a journey consisting of eight matches in a 23-day span that would make or break their season. Until Tuesday night, things could have hardly gone better for one of the more exciting expansion teams in the history of MLS.
They opened the stretch with a 3-0 win against FC Dallas and a 7-0 thrashing of the New England Revolution to open up their fancy new stadium. After a 3-3 draw with Orlando City, they kept four straight clean sheets before Tuesday night’s gut punch loss to fellow expansion side Minnesota United.
“We were tired, obviously. It’s been a long few weeks but a successful few weeks,” said Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst.
The run has been successful, indeed. They hadn’t lost a match during that stretch before Tuesday night and jumped from outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference into third place, only three points back of the coveted second place and a first round playoff bye.
Avoiding the knockout round is still a realistic goal for this team, says Parkhurst.
“I still think that if we take six points we have a very good chance of getting the second seed,” the veteran defender said. “I still think that if we take six points we have a very good chance of getting the second seed… It’s there for us and even if it’s not, finishing in the top four is very important. We want a home game if we have to play the play-in game.”
A lot of the success during this run can be owed to manager Tata Martino and the stamina of his players, who saw little rotation during the busiest of busy stretches.
“I don’t remember having had so many games myself or even watching other teams go through a stretch of games like we did with these eight games in 23 days,” he said. “We it was a risk we had to take because when we started this streak of games against Dallas we were almost outside the playoffs, so there wasn’t a lot of time to rotate players.”
He’s now going to switch the focus on resting up and getting healthy for the final two matches of the season and the playoffs.
“Now the break is natural,” said the Atlanta boss. “We’re going to rest tomorrow and all weekend. The sessions this week we’ll dedicate to recovery.”
Parkhurst, too, will welcome the time off.
“We’re definitely going to enjoy some rest,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of tired and bruised, banged-up guys. We need the break to refresh, to recharge. Mentally and physically, it’s been a grind the past few weeks. We’re going to definitely enjoy a few days off. Then, we’re going to get ready for two tough games to finish out.”
Atlanta United already have a playoff spot wrapped up and finish the season at the New York Red Bulls on October 15 and back home to face Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC a week later.