Preseason Training Notebook: Freezing Friday Atlanta United Luiz Araujo Gonzalo Pineda January 21, 2022

If Tuesday was a glimpse at what preseason for Atlanta United would be like, then the session on Friday presented a fuller picture.

The weather was simply cold. Unlike Tuesday, there was no sunshine to mitigate the freezing temperature. During training, most players had on long sleeves or beanies. Some wore gloves or facial coverings. Coaches, including new assistant coach Eugenio Villazón, were out there in black sweatpants and big puffer jackets. Reporters attending the open part of training were bundled up, bouncing themselves onto their toes to keep the blood flowing.

Atlanta United’s head coach was back too. Gonzalo Pineda missed the first open training session earlier this week. He was listed on the health and safety protocols list on Tuesday after testing positive for Covid, but was cleared for Friday’s training. The head coach was pleased with what he saw out of the team on his first day back.

“I found the team very energetic, very intense and very committed to achieve what we want to achieve,” he said.

Pineda himself was energetic, intense and committed during the part of practice open for viewing. The team opened with warm-ups and keepaway games before moving into a passing drill on the far side of the pitch. Players made give-and-go passes using one touch. During this portion, the head coach encouraged players to be crisp and clean with their passes.

“Vamos!” he called. “Ball on the ground.”

Around noon, the team concluded practice, and Pineda gave a speech that shed some light on his outlook for the preseason:

“The ideas and the intensity is there,” Pineda said. “I love that, that’s how we need to continue the buildup of our preseason. Every day, we’re going a little bit more. Every week, we’re going a little bit more. Better in the quality, better in the physical component of the preseason.”

Here are a few more insights and observations from Friday’s training:

Roll Call

All of the players who had to miss Tuesday’s practice due to health and safety protocols like Pineda were back training on Friday. That includes first round SuperDraft pick Erik Centeno, defender Mikey Ambrose and midfielder Matheus Rossetto, who was sporting a new icy hairstyle that was hard not to notice, even from the sideline. (Rossetto’s friend and fellow Brazilian Luiz Araújo was not a fan of the new look).

Midfielder Jake Mulraney was still away finalizing his green card process. And the two players given permission to report at a later date, midfielder Ezequiel Barco and forward Erik Lopez, were also not at the training ground.

The list of players with their national teams got longer with forward Josef Martínez and midfielder Ronald Hernández getting called up earlier this week for Venezuela. (They’ll be on international duty through early February.) Those two were not at practice Friday, joining defenders Brooks Lennon, George Bello, and Miles Robinson who are currently with the U.S. men’s national team in January camp and forward Machop Chol who was called up for South Sudan.

Midfielder Jürgen Damm was out on Friday due to personal reasons. Midfielders Santiago Sosa and Emerson Hyndman continued to rehab on their own.

Hyndman Close To Returning

Speaking of Hyndman, the midfielder met with the media for the first time since suffering a torn ACL injury that made him miss the majority of the 2021 season. The midfielder sported shorts in front of the shivering reporters. He also looked bigger. Hyndman said he had gained some muscle from the weight lifting he did during his rehab.

Hyndman also gave details on the injury itself, saying it was a random, no-contact injury that happened during training when he planted his foot and his knee gave way.

“It was just very unfortunate,” he said. “It’s one of those things you just have to lower your head and work hard. Thankfully I’ve had tons of support from everyone here all of last year and obviously the beginning this year, so I’m just ready to be back.”

Prior to his injury, Hyndman played a significant role for Atlanta United during the early part of the 2021 season. He started seven matches, playing a full 90 in five of them and scoring one goal. He recorded one assist during that stretch, which was Martinez’s first goal of the year. Coincidentally, it was Martínez’s first goal since coming back from an ACL tear, the same injury Hyndman suffered.

Going through similar injuries one year apart, Martínez’s ACL tear occurred at the beginning of the 2020 season, gave the two players a connection. Martínez gave Hyndman some advice on how to rehab and recover.

“He said it’s not going to get better too fast, but he said just do what you can,” Hyndman said. “Do everything they tell you to do, do it properly, and it’ll run its course.”

The recovery process has been smooth for Hyndman, and thankfully he hasn’t experienced any setbacks. He’s been running for a little over a month and getting more contact with the ball the past couple of weeks. His hopes are to join in more on the team’s preseason trip to Mexico and see what his body can handle.

“It goes off my body, what I can handle, what I can’t at the time," he said. "And obviously I have to adjust to the speed and make sure I’m fully fit by that time and have a lot of training, so it really just goes off feel."

Preseason Plan

The preseason schedule released on Thursday includes five friendly preseason matches. The team will play one match in Marietta next week then go to the University of Georgia to play at Turner Soccer Complex.

Then, the team will embark on a big trip to Mexico where they will play against Celaya FC and Chivas, a team in Liga MX that Pineda used to play for. In Guadalajara, Pineda expects to have all players back from international duty. And, with a full team at this part of the preseason, Pineda expects to devote more time to tactical and technical training.

“We’re trying to play more patient at the moment,” Pineda said. “As the preseason progresses… we’ll put more emphasis on the style of play.”

It’s the first preseason for Pineda, who arrived to Atlanta United fairly late in the season in 2021. Since his August arrival, no MLS club earned more points in the table than Atlanta United. So, there’s been a lot of anticipation to see what Pineda can do with a full preseason with the team.

The goal for Pineda this preseason is to help the team play a style of soccer that fans will enjoy. But, at the same time, he wants that style of play to help the team win. He wants Atlanta United to be a team that dominates the opponent and creates more chances. And he wants the team to dominate more consistently.

“We think we have the team to do that, we think we have all the resources to do that,” he said. “It’s the time to just apply and perform and prepare ourselves for the season.”

A player who could have a major role in that style of play for Atlanta United in 2022 is Araújo. The striker joined the squad in the middle of the 2021 season and had flashes of brilliance. During his 16 matches in MLS, he showed incredible speed and gelled well with Atlanta’s existing attacking players, finishing the season with four goals and three assists.

“I think the first year is the hardest year for any player,” Araújo said. “I think I have more confidence with my teammates and my team and obviously knowing the league more, I need to score more goals, I need to make more assists, and I think it’s very important to win the league.”

As Pineda mentioned the importance of consistency, Araújo hopes to be a major factor more often for Atlanta United in 2022.

“I learned the league has a very high level, very technical, very physical,” he said. “I’m preparing physically and it’s a big year for me and it’s a big year for the team.”

Atlanta United fans will get to see more Araújo during the preseason friendlies. Two of the matches will be open to the public and the club will stream at least one match online. Taking their talents outside of Atlanta will be an exciting chance for the team to meet the fans where they are and show off the style of play Pineda envisions for 2022.

“We want to play good, but we want to play effective as well,” Pineda said.

Training Photos: Preseason Day 2
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Atlanta United kicks off the 2022 season on Feb. 27 against Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Click here to view tickets.