33 appearances. 3 assists. 1 goal.
Jon Gallagher spent last year’s season mostly on loan at Aberdeen FC. Gallagher’s been with Atlanta United for the past two seasons, and now is starting his third with the club. During his time with the 5-Stripes, he made 35 starts with ATL UTD 2 and scored seven goals before departing to Scotland, where he faced a new challenge.
“From a personal perspective. I grew so much as a player and person,” Gallagher said. “I found out a lot about myself that I didn’t know partly because I hadn’t been put in tough situations and different environments in my professional career so far.”
The Dons have a loyal fan base in their town. The town lives and breathes the game which reminded Gallagher a lot of his childhood growing up in Ireland when he was a fan before his career.
“People live and breathe futbol. I completely understood it,” Gallagher said with enthusiasm. “It was cool being on the other side of it being the player rather than the fan.”
He experienced some exciting moments as a player. His first match was a huge task for him. Not only was it in an UEFA Europa league match, it also was a different position for him— center mid.
“I’ve been playing right back my whole professional career,” Gallagher exclaimed. “The first game there were so many injuries I had to play a center mid. I’ve never played a single game at center-mid before then, not even at youth level. I never played in the middle of the field. The manager told me lunch time the day before the game after training. You’re going to play here. I think you can do it. I was like okay, I didn’t know what to think. It was a huge game. It was my debut. From there, I kept playing there. I think the manager liked me at that position.”
Gallagher continued at center-mid, which was a new challenge. But, a challenge that taught him more than he would soon realize.
“It was tough because I spent a lot of my time adjusted to the game over there and adjusting to a position I literally never played before,” Gallagher emphasized. “I definitely learned a lot about myself in that time between bad performances and good performances. It was like trying not to get too hyped or too low. I remember I would get really down on myself if we didn’t win or I didn’t feel good about my performance. I remember the manager would be like don’t get down on yourself. You’re just learning. You’re playing a position you never really played before.”
During his time in Aberdeen, ATL UTD staff still checked up on him regularly to make sure he was being taken care of. Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra even visited him and took him for a meal and coffee.
“We talked about soccer and how I was doing, talked about some performances and soccer stuff,” Gallagher shared. “He just wanted to make sure I was also doing alright off the field.”
Another member of the ATL UTD staff consistently reached out to him throughout the loan and visited him during the holiday– Stephen Glass.
Glass knew The Dons very well and the culture and atmosphere of the club. He started his career there from 1994 to 1998. Gallagher also had a great relationship with him due to his experience and time playing matches with ATL UTD 2.
“He was essentially my coach before going over there,” Gallagher expressed. “There were plenty of times when I was lonely. He would reach out to me or I’d reach out to him and we’d just chat about what’s going on, how the games were going. He was a big part of helping me through the loan.”
Now, Gallagher is back with the 5-Stripes playing for him once again.
“It’s different now because he’s my coach again. When I was in Aberdeen he felt more like a friend, so now it's the reverse,” Gallagher explained. “I want to do well for him. I want to play well for him because I want to see him do well just because he’s done so much to help me.”
At the beginning of quarantine, Gallagher returned to the ATL to continue with the 5-Stripes. He traveled with the team to the MLS is Back Tournament, and finally got his MLS Debut. Though he’d rather it be in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of 70,000 fans, it was still special.
“The opportunity came to go to Aberdeen. I took it with two hands and was like yeah, let’s do it. This would be great for me. I spent a year there, 10 months there not knowing if I would ever come back and make my MLS debut,” Gallagher said. “When I finally got to do it, it felt like a lot of hard work and perseverance. I feel like that really describes me as a player, someone who works hard and never gives up. It was a super proud moment for me. It was awesome. I hope I can continue to start building on that.”
At practice now in Atlanta, Gallagher feels his growth as a player and his hard work paid off with his first team debut from his time at Aberdeen FC.
“I feel like I come back a bit more mad, a bit more physical, playing at a faster tempo,” Gallagher expressed with excitement. “The first thing I noticed in training I was up to speed with it a bit quicker. When I first left when I was training with the first team, I felt like I had to be 100 percent sharp knowing that the speed of play was going to be quick. I feel like it’s now normal, and I think quicker. I feel more comfortable on the field knowing the pressure I’ve dealt with due to the massive games I played over there.”
Gallagher came back to Atlanta stronger, faster and smarter than when he left. Now he's ready to give his all for the club and the coach that helped him grow.