So why exactly are we getting two games on Sunday?
There's no crying in baseball, and there are no doubleheaders in soccer, right?
As previously reported, Sunday’s friendly matchup against Atlanta United will feature not one, but two games. Admittedly, these will be shortened – slightly – to 80 minutes each, but even so 160 minutes is 40 minutes longer than even a full game with extra time. That’s a lot of soccer.
So why is this happening?
This will be Atlanta’s second preseason outing against USL Championship opposition. Last Saturday they hosted the Charleston Battery behind closed doors at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and played two 60-minute games, winning by an aggregate 6-1.
They have another friendly tonight, with Chattanooga FC visiting their training facility in Marietta, GA. Chattanooga, you may recall, was the Legion’s first preseason game back on March 13th (the Legion won, 2-0). The format for tonight has not been released.
Even if it’s a standard 90 minutes, that means that by Sunday evening Atlanta United will have played 370 minutes of soccer in 8 days. That’s more than 4 full games. A punishing schedule, clearly.
There are two things to bear in mind here.
First, MLS is starting its regular season earlier than the USL. Atlanta opens its schedule on April 17th. Beyond that, Atlanta is also competing in the CONCACAF Champions League and has two games against Costa Rican side Alajuelense on April 6th and 13th. They have serious games coming up very fast.
Second, United has a new manager in Argentine Gabriel Heinze, who took over just a couple of months ago. He’s had his work cut out for him, and needs to get closely acquainted with his squad. He also has a very clear philosophy about soccer. If you have a subscription to The Athletic, you can read a lengthy article about that here.
In short, he believes in fitness and extreme hard work in training. He is a disciple of legendary coach Marcelo Bielsa. If you’re not familiar with that name, he has been influential on many coaches, especially those coming out of Argentina (including Atlanta’s first coach Tata Martino). He is known as “El Loco” and is currently manager of Leeds United and is responsible for returning them to the English Premier League in just two years. Heinze’s exhausting training approach comes straight from Bielsa (Google “Bielsa murderball” to see just what that entails).
So, the doubleheader is almost certainly at Atlanta’s request.
That doesn’t mean though that we will see the same players run themselves ragged over two games. Against the Battery Atlanta played two completely different squads composed of the MLS roster, the USL Atlanta United 2 roster, and a few academy players. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, they wore training uniforms without numbers or names on their backs (they did have numbers on their shorts). Charleston also wore training gear but at least had numbers. Expect more of the same Sunday. It also has not been announced if this game will be the on-field debut of Atlanta’s new home kit (the friendly last year saw the first action for their new away kit).
For the Legion, that means we are likely to see a similar approach. And that implies we will have more than a few of the mysterious unnamed trialist players on display.
All in all, though, we are definitely going to get our money’s worth.