The MLS SuperDraft concluded earlier this week, so for the first time on Wednesday, Danny Centeno was able to introduce himself to Atlanta media.
No, it’s not the brother of Atlanta United’s first round selection – it’s actually Erik Centeno himself. He was physically in California but took questions via Zoom on Wednesday. As it turns out, the player out of University of the Pacific goes by another name.
“Basically everywhere, they call me Danny,” he said. “Just at school they call me Erik.”
His full name is Erik Daniel Centeno, which is where the nickname comes from. Centeno was one of four selections drafted by Atlanta United in Tuesday’s MLS SuperDraft. He leads a 2022 draft class for Atlanta United consisting of four attackers that the front office envisions as players who can be developed within the club’s system.
Centeno was a highly valued prospect in this year’s SuperDraft. He was one of eight members of the 2022 Generation Adidas class, a group of highly touted underclassmen and youth national team prospects. (Members of former Generation Adidas classes include U.S. men’s national team players Walker Zimmerman, Cristian Roldan and Atlanta United’s own Miles Robinson.)
On Tuesday, Centeno was the last of this year’s Generation Adidas players to be selected in the draft. But falling to No. 19 didn’t faze the unassuming 19-year-old.
“Honestly, I just let God do his thing and wherever he decided to put me that was best for me, so I’m happy,” Centeno said.
A versatile player, much has been made about Centeno’s position, which seems to be listed as everything but goalkeeper. In two different places, MLSSoccer.com had him listed as a forward and a defender. When asked directly about where he prefers to play, Centeno’s answer was simple.
“I like playing winger,” he said.
The answer aligns with what Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said about the prospect following the draft on Tuesday. Although he could develop at another position, Bocanegra and the scouting team looked at Centeno as a winger. Bocanegra called the player “crafty” and “tricky,” and touted his speed and crossing ability. This skill set means playing up the field as a wide attacking player could be a good fit for Centeno.
“I like taking players on 1-v-1,” Centeno said. “I like to dribble, I like to score goals, I like to help the team as much as I can.”
Originally from Stockton, Calif., Centeno’s family is a strong influence on him. Watching his older brother play inspired Centeno to start playing at five years old. He cites his mom as one of the most influential people in his life because of her devotion and diligence to his training.
“Sometimes she would get home from work and not even eat sometimes to be able to get me to training on time,” he said. “So, I’m so grateful.”
His parents are from Mexico and came to the U.S. before Centeno was born. He models his game after Jesùs Corona, a Mexican player. He’s a big fan of the Mexico national team, although he’s a little too young to recall seeing his new head coach Gonzalo Pineda ever play for the team.
“I think I was too young to watch him play,” he said. “But I heard my parents say that he’s a really good player, and my older brother as well.”
It’s true, Centeno is very young. He’s just 19 years old, one of the youngest players in this year’s draft. Although his time at Pacific was short (he entered the SuperDraft after his freshman year), he excelled. He was the only freshman to start in all 16 games for Pacific, recording six goals and five assists. He led the team in points, and following the season was given first-team All-West Coast Conference and Freshman of the Year honors.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect this,” he said. “When I got to U of P, I was just hoping to be a starter, but it just all happened quickly and I had a really good season, and I thank God I’m here now.”
Centeno arrives to Atlanta on Thursday, which gives him a few days to get settled into his new city. He’s already familiar with some of the players on the team. He looks up to Josef Martínez and follows striker and fellow Mexican Jürgen Damm.
Like the other 2022 draft selections, Centeno will have the opportunity to train with the first team next week when they return to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground to begin the preseason, an opportunity for Centeno to come in and prove himself.
“I’m just going to get there, work as hard as I can, and hopefully earn some minutes,” he said.
Atlanta United kicks off the 2022 season on Feb. 27 against Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Click here to view tickets.