The beginning of the week marked the start of training for the 2024 season. With preseason matches just around the corner, the club’s preparations for the season ahead began with busy days. Along with the usual training that comes with rounding into seasonal form came news of signings. Atlanta United fans will have some new faces to look forward to including Dax McCarty, who the club signed in free agency, as well as Derrick Williams.
But it was three familiar faces that spoke with the media Friday about their expectations for not only Atlanta United for 2024, but also their intentions for what they can do for the club.
If anyone knows what it takes to prepare for the MLS season, it is veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The 2024 season will be Guzan’s eighth with Atlanta United after arriving in 2017. Despite the end of last season and changes that were sure to come to the roster, it was no question for him that he would come back.
“I always knew that I had another year,” he said. “I did not feel like after that game was the time to talk about me individually. It was about the team and what we just kind of gone through in terms of the playoffs.”
Guzan expressed feeling better physically coming into this year versus the previous one. Feeling loose and preparing for what is to come, Guzan understands that competition even within the team is a natural part of the job, not only for a goalkeeper but for every position. As the longest tenured player in the club and going into his 20th season playing professionally, Guzan is aware of how important it is to adapt with change and welcome new teammates, especially those arriving internationally like Bortosz Slisz.
“First and foremost, it starts with the club in terms of what they do off the field,” said Guzan. “To find living accommodations, car, bank account, cell phones. These types of things that you and I, we all probably take for granted because we’ve had them set up for numerous years or we know where to go to get those things if we need to get them. But when you move to a new country, you may not know… the more communication the better.”
Overall, like any team sport, it is collective effort. Though this iteration of the team has only been together for a couple of days, the focus is on a successful season. For Guzan, it is not about playing for another contract, it is about playing for the now. Taking everything that has been accumulated to push forward.
“You take it day by day, week by week, and go from there. None of us are promised tomorrow, so it is about performing today.”
Fullback Brooks Lennon is also focusing on the now and what the club can do to improve their chances this coming season. One goal for the team being to take advantage of the winning record Atlanta United has at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, especially in a playoff setting.
Finishing in the top four in the Eastern Conference in 2023 meant home field advantage. Last season, Atlanta United went on the road twice to play Columbus Crew in the Round One Best-of-3 series. Columbus later went on to win the MLS Cup.
“Obviously, everyone is going to say that their main goal is to win the MLS Cup,” he said. “But there has to be smaller obtainable goals like finishing in the top four before you can go after the main goal.”
Lennon is a goal-oriented person. This previous season he ended with four goals and 13 assists, reaching his personal objective of finishing with 10 assists. Like many people, he uses these goals to motivate him. This year, he wants to get at least five goals and 15 assists.
Along with more production, Lennon also wants to continue being as useful as possible match in and match out. As someone who logs lots of minutes for the club, staying ahead of the curve is key.
“I think for me, it is just a routine and staying disciplined in how I treat my body, and what I do outside of the field,” he said. “Making sure I am a pro at all times. Even when we have some days off, making sure I am eating the right things and staying in shape.”
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda not only wants to focus on attacking and keeping strong on defense, but he also wants there to be a common thought process throughout. While strategy, formations and field tactics are major parts for creating results, Pineda keeps in mind that mentality also plays a large part in success. Pineda and the players are on the same page when it comes to what they want out of the 2024 season.
“We talked about certain standards and goals and things,” Pineda said. “One of the main things we told them is that we want to focus on competitive mentality, not just winning mentality.”
The coaching staff wants to see consistency. The team Pineda envisions is one of steady growth, and he hopes that the new players will slot right into that plan. Preseason is just the first step in molding the team into form, including integrating the new acquisitions. Pineda spoke highly of all the newly signed players, including center back Stian Gregersen, noting the Norwegian’s physicality and speed. He also credited Slisz with being a great all-around player.
“First, I think they fit the style. Soccer wise they fit the model,” he said.