Week one of preseason training wrapped up on a cold, very cold, Friday morning at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. The players were greeted by local Atlanta media ready to report on the new season. The team walked on to the practice pitch dawning beanies, long sleeves and joggers a contrast from their usual training uniform. For it being the first week back, the group got right into the swing of things with passing drills, rondos and 11v11.
The first team training featured some younger faces this week with a few Academy and Atlanta United 2 players joining the first team at training. Young players like Jonatan Villal, David Mejía and Shawn Lanza switched things up on the pitch.
Training this week also saw the return of Thiago Almada who had a breakout 2022 season in MLS and then proceeded to be a part of the winning World Cup team with Argentina. Almada returned to training Sunday with the team after receiving a warm welcome from fans at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Saturday Jan. 7.
Since returning Almada got straight into training with the team in preparation for the 2023 season. The Argentine midfielder was praised by Pineda for his humble demeanor and work ethic since his return from Qatar.
“That’s one thing I love about Thiago [Almada],” Coach Pineda said. “I cannot imagine being 20, 21 and having achieved a championship of the world, it’s something very special to me so I’m very happy to be able to coach a player like Thiago.”
“The best thing [Almada] can do is to be grounded and that’s exactly what he has shown since the very first day he’s been here in 2023 with us. He’s been on time in every meal, in every training session he’s been everything as normal, very humble.”
Following the whirlwind moment of becoming a World Cup winner Almada is focused on his next target, the 2023 MLS regular season. Alongside his teammates, Almada wants to focus on the preseason and keep the team goals in line for this year.
“I think I’m coming into this year like I did last year,” Almada said to the media on Friday. “With a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm to give my best to the team. Of course, the World Cup come with a lot of weight but I’m here with the same excitement as always.”
That excitement for the new season was also felt by Atlanta United captain, Brad Guzan. The goalkeeper greeted media with excitement and humor, joking about the temperature and describing his return like the first day of school. This week marked Guzan’s official return to training after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon back in April 2022.
“I’m like a kid on the first day every day,” Guzan said. “Running out there just messing around, having fun. Of course, when it’s time to work, it’s time to work but you do it with a smile on your face.”
That lesson and knowledge is something Guzan continues to share with his younger teammates in the locker room, but also something that’s shown by example. At training, the 38-year-old goalkeeper could be seen back into the swing of things, training with the team, giving instructions between the sticks and having conversations on the side with teammates.
With the preseason just kicking off, it’s hard to say what this season will shape out to be. There are still lots of moving parts, new player arrivals and lots of preseason matches before the home opener on Feb. 25.
“I’m sure there are still some faces to come through the door and join the group,” Guzan said. “Everyone is eager, everyone is hungry to right the wrongs of last year. It’s been a handful of days so far, but it’s been an energetic, ambitious group and I think I’ll hold off saying this is what it is for the next ten months but the first couple of days it’s been good.”
With a slightly longer preseason, Atlanta United is hoping to maximize it’s time and fine tune the team before the first match. The goal is to continue to build upon last season.
“Number one is injury free,” Pineda said. “That’s always what you want out of preseason and after that obviously continue with that development of game model. Obviously, it’s continuing with the same idea but improving. Yes, there are many guys coming back and most of the XI are coming back so we have the right personnel to build on that and that’s the goal to fine tune in better movements, especially on the ball. Being better on the ball and that’s the objective for this preseason.”