Things went a little differently for training this week at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. On Wednesday, the team held two training sessions – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – and it was the afternoon session that we got to see. At 3:30 p.m. players emerged from the facility to train in front of a group of reporters. Dukes & Bell from 92.9 The Game broadcast their show live from the balcony above the pitch.
The afternoon session proved to be competitive with players pushing themselves in small-sided games and competitive races. At the start, the team warmed up while head coach Gonzalo Pineda showed off his juggling skills, putting a fast spin on the ball while he kept it from touching the ground. Then, players divided into four groups that went up against each other in a competitive race. Players sprinted down a small stretch of field, headed the ball to a coach, then raced back toward the end where they started. Meanwhile, teammates cheered each other on in what was one of the loudest moments of the day.
Afterward, the team played some competitive games. First, a three-team game where players got off several good shots, including a rich strike from World Cup champion and midfielder Thiago Almada that went straight to goalkeeper Brad Guzan’s hands. Then, they went into a full-field transition drill. One side essentially ran a fast break with the ball while the other side defended. In that section, midfielder Edwin Mosquera showed off his speed and scored a low-driven strike into the corner of the net.
The fast play and hard work on the pitch shows the team’s outlook toward this year’s preseason:
“Not just in preseason but in general, I think everyone this year is trying to get to our best level,” defender Juanjo Purata said after training. “Everyone’s trying to get to the highest level that they can because that will then help the collective.”
The team trained this week ahead of their first preseason friendly on Saturday. Atlanta United plays Chattanooga FC at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 3 p.m. Supporters can follow our coverage on the Atlanta United social accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook
Preseason presents a valuable opportunity for the team to build toward the MLS regular season home opener on February 25 against the San Jose Earthquakes. While there’s still a month until then, you have to start from somewhere, defender Brooks Lennon says, and that’s preseason.
“It’s always very important to start the year off with a great preseason and so far, we’ve done that every single day,” Lennon said. “The attitude’s been great in training. The execution and what the coaching staff wants from us, we’ve done so well. That’s how you build the building blocks to have a successful season and end up getting into the playoffs.”
Atlanta United didn’t qualify for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in 2022, and while it might seem early in the year to be talking about the next postseason, the team knows that the work toward reaching that goal starts as soon as the calendar turns over.
“Us as players, we can only focus on what we can control and that’s showing up here every day, listening to what the coaching staff wants from us, putting our all into every single training and every preseason game, and that’s how you form a team,” Lennon said.
For Lennon, he’s entering 2023 as one of the team’s veterans. In November, Lennon signed a contract extension through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026. After spending the past three seasons in Atlanta, Lennon's now one of the leaders on the squad, and the Arizona native is looking to continue his development this season.
“Right now, the culture and the vibe in the locker room is very positive, and I’m super excited for 2023. I think it’s going to be a successful year for us,” he said.
In his first full preseason with the squad, Purata is getting more comfortable with two important members to the Atlanta United defense – and two members that Purata has never played with before: Guzan and center back Miles Robinson. Both are making their way back from injuries they sustained during the 2022 season before Purata joined in June.
Purata calls Guzan “one of the leaders of our group” and a vocal communicator for the backline. With Robinson, Purata says it’s been a good process and that the two are starting to work together very well.
“I feel comfortable playing with him,” Purata said of Robinson. “I think we’ve had a good relationship and we’re building good chemistry in these weeks in preseason. Even though we speak a different language, it’s not an issue. We’re able to communicate the things that we need to. So, I think we’re working through that in preseason and I think we can be a good duo.”
During 2022, Purata scored six goals in 17 appearances for the 5-Stripes. That high scoring rate made Purata the highest-scoring defender in club history. Scoring so many goals wasn’t something he expected but will gladly take if it helped the team.
Looking toward the 2023 season, Purata isn’t focused on scoring goals. He and the team want to improve the other side of the ball, because defending well and not conceding as many goals can translate into more wins.
“I think the objective this season is the same. We want to compete for every competition that we’re playing in because that’s what this club and the players who are here demand from ourselves,” Purata said.
Next week, Atlanta United travels to Mexico City for the next phase of the preseason. The group will get a chance to train at the Mexican National Team headquarters and play two friendly matches against Atlante FC on February 4 and Cruz Azul on February 8. Bookmark atlutd.com/mexico for daily updates from our feet on the ground in Mexico.
For Purata, who is from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, which is north of Mexico City, the trip gives him a chance to be in his home country. But above everything else, the competitive center back is looking forward to playing on the pitch.
“It’s always nice to go back to your home country, but I’m also excited for these preseason matches to see where we are and then to see how we’re doing with some of the things that we’ve been working on as a group. We’ve got the first test on Saturday."
Remembering Anton Walkes
Earlier this week, Charlotte FC hosted a Celebration of Life for Anton Walkes to remember the incredible father, teammate and friend. Several members of Atlanta United traveled to Charlotte for the service. Walkes spent three seasons with Atlanta United before being selected by Charlotte FC in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft.
Lennon's words remembering Walkes:
“He’s our family member, our brother, and playing with him for so long here at Atlanta United, there were so many joyful moments with him. My heart goes out to him, his family and all of his loved ones.”
“He was a brother, a friend, everyone lit up when he came into any room. He was such a down-to-earth young man and just gone too soon. It’s definitely heartbreaking. And I think for us and our team to use that as fuel for this season, that you never know what can happen in life. So everyday that you step onto the pitch, give it your all for the crest, for the badge, for this entire organization. And also to be a good person off the field. That’s kind of the culture that Gonzalo [Pineda] has wanted for us is just to be a good person off the field, be a good teammate, work hard for one another on the field, and we can learn from Anton for that.”