The next time Atlanta United trains in Marietta, it'll be an MLS matchweek.
Tuesday marked the final preseason training session at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground for the 5-Stripes. In the afternoon, the team travels for a 12-day trip to Florida for the remainder of preseason, all leading up to the team's 2024 regular season opener in Columbus on February 24.
While in Florida, Atlanta United will be in two cities. First up is Tampa where the team will play two friendlies at Al Lang Stadium. Atlanta United faces MLS side CF Montréal, and their new striker Josef Martínez, in a midweek contest on Wednesday, Feb. 3 followed by a meeting with the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday, Feb. 10. Both matches are closed to the public but will be streamed live on atlutd.com/live. Atlanta United concludes its slate of preseason friendlies in Miami with a closed match against MLS Western Conference club Sporting Kansas City on February 17.
To preview everything coming up for the group in the next two weeks, two Atlanta United defenders spoke to local media Tuesday before boarding the plane to Tampa.
Efraín Morales was one of several signings for the club this offseason. The 19-year-old Homegrown signed a contract extension after finishing 2023 on loan with Atlanta United 2. It's the first preseason in a couple of years Morales has spent with the first team. He's seen playing time in Atlanta United's matches, most recently in the second half of the 1-1 draw with Memphis 901 FC at the University of Georgia on February 3.
On Tuesday, Morales said this preseason has been a "great opportunity" and that he's looking forward to seeing more time on the pitch during this trip to Florida.
"Obviously, there's the soccer aspect of it, but the team bonding is really different," he said. "It's something completely different that's probably just as important, if not even more important. You can't play together if you don't know each other well, so hopefully we'll build a good relationship."
Watch Morales's full media session below or on YouTube:
Ronald Hernández is a face familiar to those who've followed Atlanta United the last few years. The defender has been part of the club since 2021 when he first joined on loan from Aberdeen FC in the Scottish Premiership. Since then, he's become a valuable depth piece to the fullback position that includes Caleb Wiley, Brooks Lennon and Aiden McFadden.
Hernández said he's looking forward to seeing his fellow Venezuelan Martínez on Wednesday -- and that he had mixed feelings about his club teammate Thiago Almada scoring a goal against Venezuela in the pre-Olympic tournament. The 26-year-old also shared his goals for preseason, which include being 100 percent fit and building a strong foundation for the rest of the year by helping his new and younger teammates.
"Actions talk more than words," Hernández said Tuesday. "The younger guys are with this because they have talent but they still know that they need to improve in some different parts of the game. When somebody sees me as a mentor, it's easy when they allow themselves to hear you. The young guys are pretty easygoing, so they hear what we can advise them on stuff. Coming from that point is going to be very helpful."
Watch Hernández's full media session below or on YouTube: