¡Feliz viernes desde Mexico!
We’re really in the home stretch in terms of preseason camp. The team trained Friday morning, a lighter session than yesterday. Today, they focused on half-field work and practiced corner kicks. Unfortunately, the team activity scheduled for this afternoon was cancelled, but players got an extra afternoon to rest ahead of their upcoming scrimmages this weekend.
With the afternoon free, it was a little bit of a lighter day. There was a lot of media. ESPN and TUDN stopped by the team hotel and set up a studio in one of the ballrooms to interview head coach Gonzalo Pineda and Josef Martínez.
I also got to speak with the Consulate General to Guadalajara this afternoon. We talked about the week, the relationship between the club and the city, and touched on the special moment that happened earlier this week when Liga Cordica 21 visited Atlanta United’s training session.
Also, before lunch two players met with Atlanta media via Zoom: Ronald Hernández and Andrew Gutman.
Hernández has been getting a lot of time at right fullback during camp, especially with Brooks Lennon still working his way back from an ankle injury he had in January while he was with the U.S. men’s national team. Hernández played two 90-minute matches for Venezuela during the same January international window, which is a good sign for Atlanta United’s depth that it has two guys with international experience on the depth chart at right fullback.
“I need to take advantage of it,” Hernández said. “It’s a good opportunity for me. I wish Brooks Lennon a speedy recovery and that we can compete for a spot. But at the same time, I also have to look for myself because I need to improve and take the rhythm before the first game of the season, so against Chivas is going to be a good side to start with.”
Hernández has had a strong camp so far. He started the scrimmage against Celaya FC on Feb. 6 and created some chances in the attack. During training, he’s getting service to players flooding the box. Yesterday, he showed an impressive light touch to save a ball that was definitely heading beyond the field of play.
“I think my strengths are very clear,” Hernández said. “I’m someone who likes to run a lot up and down the touchline. Then, defensively I’m able to stay back and help solidify the backline. I think that I can be like a secret weapon going forward in the attack.”
After Hernández, Gutman spoke to the media next. I asked Gutman what it’s been like working with Almada these past three days.
“I think he’s been a great addition,” Gutman said. “From the very first training session, you can see the talent this guy has.”
The two seem to have established a good connection on the field. Almada found Gutman a few times in training today when Gutman was running down the left flank. The passes put Gutman in a good position to deliver service into the box.
“I don’t think he speaks English, I don’t really speak that good of Spanish, but when we’re on the field we seem like we have a good connection so far,” Gutman said. “I try to put him in positions that will make him successful on the ball, and then I’m always trying to give him options.”
It’s possible that Atlanta United fans will get a chance to see Almada play with Atlanta United on Sunday when the club has two scrimmages in Mexico. The club already faced one professional team here in Mexico last Sunday at Estadio Tres de Marzo when Atlanta United beat Celaya FC 2-1.
Gutman, who also started the match against Celaya FC, explained how playing against quality teams in Mexico shows something different than what Atlanta United might normally see in preseason.
“Since I’ve been in MLS, preseason games have always been against other MLS teams, so to come down here in Mexico and see teams you wouldn’t normally see, it kind of forces you to adapt and improve your game to see different styles of play and better players and different areas of the game,” he said.
On Sunday, Atlanta United faces Chivas de Guadalajara and Tepatitlán FC for two friendlies. Both matches will be played at Chivas Verde Valle, one scrimmage after the other. Atlanta United matches up against Chivas first at 10:30 a.m. ET then Tepatitlán at 12:30 p.m. ET.
“For us to come down here and play these unpredictable-type of teams, I think it’s going to help us grow as a team,” Gutman said. “For me individually, it’s going to help me grow to be able to adapt mid-game on how to play better.”
Fans back home in Atlanta, you can watch Sunday’s matches – here’s how. Those in Mexico, Chivas and Tepatitlán will be streaming on their platforms, so look out for those.
Gutman also provided more insight into what the team has been doing when they aren’t training in Mexico. Pineda had a few things planned like playing paintball and foot golf, but unfortunately both were cancelled.
However, Gutman did reveal another team activity that took place this week: a cappella karaoke. (I was going to keep this one close to the vest and let it stay with the team... but Gutman spilled the beans!)
On Tuesday afternoon, the team gathered in one of the ballrooms where they’ve been sharing meals. Every single member of the team and the coaching staff got up in front of the group, shared a quick something about themselves and sang a song – some of them had the lyrics on their phone, some even played the music from their phones to help them sing along.
Most didn’t sing the entire song, maybe just the chorus or a couple measures. Teammates in the audience created a beat by clapping their hands or banging them on the tables. There were some fun performances, some lively performances (a personal favorite of mine was a rendition of Britney Spears by a certain defender). And then, there were some rough performances that maybe went a little too long. Those guys received cloth napkins (affectionately) thrown at them.
I won't go into details about who sang what, but Gutman's song choice will give you an idea of the range. He went with ‘Juicy’ by The Notorious B.I.G.
Back in January, Gutman said one of the main things he was looking forward to about the preseason was gelling with his teammates. He spent last season with New York Red Bulls, so this is a new group for him. And after 11 days in Mexico, and two more to go, the trip has been a good chance to help him do just that -- a cappella karaoke included.
“When you’re around the team for two weeks straight in a hotel, eating meals together, training together, going for coffee together, that’s the only interaction you have with people,” he said. “So I think it’s been helpful for me to get to know the team better.”