Some days at the Training Ground feel a little more special than others. These days break up the monotony of a match week and bring a little bit of the outside world in. Whether it’s hosting supporters or welcoming a new member of the team or celebrating a momentous occasion, some days bring warmth and joy that change up the current perspective.
Today was one of those days.
Wednesday brought special visitors to the Training Ground. The club hosted pediatric cancer patients and their families for the Owen Klemme Conquer Kids Training Ground Experience. The participants got a tour through the facility, including the locker rooms, fields and training rooms. Then, they were invited to watch the first team training and have lunch on campus.
The children not only watched training, but they also interacted with the team. At one point, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda called the children off the sideline and invited them onto the pitch to help collect the soccer balls for the team’s next drill. After training, players met with them and signed autographs. One young boy was so excited, he got the players to sign not just a soccer ball but also the T-shirt on his back, which was soon filled with gold signatures.
“It’s going to be worth thousands of dollars!” he said.
Here are some more insights and observations from a special day at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground:
Gold Training Tops
The field had a different look Wednesday morning. It was colorful and busy, with cones and dummies and hurdles and miniature goals set up all around the pitch.
There was an extra splash of color on the players as well. Today, the players trained in this year’s pre-match tops for Kick Childhood Cancer, the league-wide campaign that aims to raise awareness of pediatric cancers and fundraise for childhood cancer research. The shirts feature the color gold to represent the international symbol for childhood cancer. The team will be wearing them for the club’s Unite & Conquer Cancer match on September 10 against Toronto FC and before every match in September, home or away.
“To be able to interact with the kids, they’re very excited to be here and to be able to see athletes, so it’s something that gives them a lot of excitement to be able share that time with us,” midfielder Edwin Mosquera said.
Also attending Wednesday’s event was the Klemme family, a beloved family here at Atlanta United. Their youngest son, Owen, endured a long fight with pediatric neuroblastoma and passed away last year with his family by his side. Owen was a beloved member of the Conquer Kids, and the Owen Klemme Conquer Kids program is named in his honor to continue his legacy.
The family was invited to debut the new pre-match tops for Atlanta United. During the visit on Wednesday, the club presented framed photos from the retail shoot to the Klemmes for them to take home.
Conquer Kids At The Training Ground
As part of the Owen Klemme Conquer Kids Training Ground Experience, the group was invited to watch Atlanta United’s training session in the morning. Wearing black kits and Unite & Conquer Cancer t-shirts, the group buzzed with excitement getting a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite team.
During training, Atlanta United players Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson, also in the KCC pre-match tops, came out to meet with the group. They walked down the line, meeting with all the parents and saying hello to the children.
Once training concluded, players came off the pitch and joined Guzan and Robinson to sign autographs for the guests. The club’s community relations team gave each child and their siblings a miniature soccer ball. Players took their time speaking with the children and getting to know them, even after a physical training session.
“It was awesome seeing them there,” defender Caleb Wiley said. “Seeing that they can see what we do in training, it was really cool seeing them.”
Wiley is among some of the players participating in the Owen Klemme Conquer Kids Individual experiences also taking place on Wednesday. In the afternoon, four Conquer Kids will get a “dream experience” with their favorite player from Atlanta United. Wiley will be going with Carter to a trampoline park.
Atlanta United Preparing for D.C. United
It was a special day with special visitors. But that didn’t mean the team took it easy.
“Training today was pretty demanding, especially coming off two off days,” Mosquera said.
After two days off to recover from the rainy draw in Columbus, the group returned to the pitch on Wednesday and put in a quality session. The team warmed up and went through passing drills. Then, they worked on heading. They cycled through and were fed a ball by a coach who the player would hit it back to. Then, the team broke out into Rondos.
After warm-ups, the team worked on 1-v-1 defending. A player would take the ball and make small dribbles and try to get past another player in the defensive stance. The situation created a competitive moment for defender Aiden McFadden who worked hard to try and contain attacker Josef Martínez.
“Quality!” assistant coach Eugenio Villazón shouted over the pitch.
Then, Pineda split his team up for small-sided games. Each side needed to complete a certain number of passes, and the final pass had to be in a precise area marked by a square of tape on the field. Assistant coach Diego de la Torre encouraged players to move the ball quickly in the small space and counted the passes out loud.
Finally, for the last portion of practice the defenders and attackers separated. On the near side of the pitch in front of the spectators, attackers went through a complex drill to work on their accuracy. The players sent diagonal balls into each corner where a miniature goal rested behind a wall of dummies. Then, the player received a ball centrally from each side and had the chance to put away two shots on the regulation size goal.
It was a challenging drill that had attacking players taking shots in rapid succession – and from different parts of the field. Dom Dwyer looked like he was about to go 4-for-4 when his last shot hit the crossbar. The striker responded with his hands on his head, knowing how close he was to achieving perfection.
All the hard work leads to Sunday when Atlanta United hosts D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Only four home matches remain in the regular season, so don’t wait and secure your seat today!