It was a lighter day at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground on Tuesday. Two days after the team’s 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, the starters had a day of recovery and a small group got out onto the pitch for training.
Players training today started with passing drills. Fitness coach Jack Kimber encouraged them to make their passes sharp and quick. Then, they moved into a three-team possession drill, working inside a diamond shape marked on the pitch.
After that, the guys broke into two teams for a 4-v-4 competition. Jackson Conway, Caleb Wiley, Brooks Lennon and Alan Franco were on one side with Dylan Castanheira in goal. Danny Centeno, Marcelino Moreno, Mikey Ambrose, Alex De John were on the other with Bobby Shuttleworth as the keeper.
Some highlights from the small-sided competition included Centeno, scoring on a sure, low-driven shot. Franco was active, passing the ball well and scoring a few times. On one, he connected with Wiley after Wiley flipped the ball to him using his back-heel, and Franco put it away for a goal.
For the final segment of practice, the group worked on crossing. Assistant coach Eugenio Villazon set up an assists competition. The wingers/wingbacks on the right side of the pitch alternated with the ones on the left. They’d take turns crossing the ball into the center of the box where the forwards or defenders would run on and try to finish off the cross.
The first cross in the competition resulted in a goal. Aiden McFadden lifted a ball into the box and Conway finished it off with a header. Later, De John had a chance right in front of goal, but Shuttleworth got low to make a nice save. Conway and Franco scored back-to-back headers. A few starters, including Amar Sejdić, George Campbell, and Tyler Wolff, came out and sat on the edge of the pitch to watch the competition.
In between media availability and the end of practice, there was some light entertainment. Franco challenged assistant coach Diego de la Torre in a little game of trying to hit the crossbar with a shot from the top of the box. Franco hit it once and rejoiced. The two went back-and-forth a few times. Finally, head coach Gonzalo Pineda, who had been behind them watching, decided to get in on the action. In true form, El Profe hit the crossbar on his first try.
The day culminated with assistant coach Rob Valentino taking on the mantle to fish a couple soccer balls leftover from training. A few errant shots landed in the trees behind the goal and were lodged in between the branches, so together with the equipment crew, they threw another ball into the tree limbs (and one even climbed) to jiggle them loose.
We had Tyler Wolff and Matheus Rossetto after training, and here were a few things they had to say:
Fresh off a commanding 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City to open the MLS season, the guys said they felt good and confident, and you could tell it meant a lot for them to get win No. 1 in front of a home crowd.
“It was awesome seeing the fans, 67,000, just hearing the chants and seeing all the faces back in the stadium,” Wolff said. “It’s always fun. It always gets the guys pumped up for the games, and I just can’t wait to see them the rest of the season.”
It was the first of three full-venue matches slated this season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The attendance for Sunday’s match was approximately 67,523. Those stadium numbers led opening weekend for MLS. The next highest attendance total was in Seattle which hosted Nashville in front of approximately 30,000.
Getting a multi-goal victory at home, Wolff said, gave the club confidence in everything they’ve been doing in preseason. It was a boost to see the hard work pay off and turn into results.
What’s even more promising about 2022 is that the squad isn’t even yet at full strength. On Sunday, the team was without center back Alan Franco, who missed the game due to red card suspension. Thiago Almada, Santiago Sosa, and Franco Ibarra were also unavailable and are still waiting on their visas. Plus, the team had to go most of the match without the guy who scored the first goal, Luiz Araújo, who left in the 20th minute with a hamstring injury.
Atlanta United is on the road this weekend but returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 13 when Charlotte FC comes to town. And we all know how desperate Charlotte FC is to make the matchup a rivalry, so we can be sure Atlanta United will be prepared to show the new guys who reigns as Kings of the South.
After the match on Sunday, Pineda was asked about the team’s chemistry and the way that certain players were finding each other well during the match, connecting to create combinations and attacking chances for Atlanta United. Pineda called these “little connections” and said the team has worked on these movements during preseason.
During media availability, Wolff and Rossetto got a chance to share about the connections they’ve made with other players in the season opener.
Wolff got the start on Sunday against Sporting Kansas City, which wasn’t a surprise. The Homegrown forward has had a good preseason, scoring goals in both of the preseason scrimmages against the Georgia Storm and Georgia Revolution.
During the match against Sporting Kansas City, he linked up with Josef Martínez to produce the team’s first goal of 2022. Both Martínez and Wolff were credited with assists on the goal. It was one of two assists on the day for Martínez, who earned MLS Team of the Week honors, and the first of Wolff’s career.
Working with Martínez so much in preseason, the 19-year-old has been able to learn from one of the most experienced attackers in MLS. The main thing Martínez has taught him: patience.
“Jo[sef], he likes to come down and combine, so he wants me to stay around him sometimes and not running in behind as much or all the time because he has movement,” Wolff said. “That’s his thing. He knows how to move and how to score goals and being in spots.”
For Rossetto, the connection was between him, the attacking midfielders as well as players on the wings. He said that Pineda has changed the system some between this year and last, which has put Rossetto in more offensive positions on the pitch, and he has his eyes set on getting on the score sheet this season.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to score some goals and get some assists as well,” Rossetto said.
Pineda mentioned Rossetto in his postgame press conference on Sunday, along with Ozzie Alonso and Amar Sejdić. Atlanta’s manager praised the midfield trio for their ability to do the hard, dirty work like pressing, counter-pressing and igniting the offense, and Rossetto agreed that the position could be a strong one for Atlanta United this season.
“I think for the first game that the three of us played together, we did really well together,” Rossetto said. “We have a lot of talented players at that position, guys like Santi[ago Sosa], Ozzie [Alonso], Thiago [Almada], all those other guys who are very, very good players, so I think we all can work well together.”
Road Tripping To Colorado
With many of Sunday’s starters focusing on recovery today, the team hasn’t quite turned the page fully to prepare for its upcoming matchup on the road against Colorado Rapids.
But the match is approaching. It’ll be the team’s second match of the season, the first road trip of the regular season. And on Tuesday, there’s already chatter about the weather conditions for Saturday: a 36-degree low, 5-10 mph winds and a 60 percent chance of snow.
That's quite different from here in Atlanta, where temperatures are projected to reach the high 70s/low 80s later this week, but Atlanta United has faced heavy snowfall before. The club infamously played in snow during its inaugural season, and the team performed very well. In the match played at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Atlanta beat Minnesota United 6-1 behind a hattrick from Martínez and a brace from Miguel Almiron to give the club its first-ever MLS win.
(Current Atlanta United goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth also played in that match but for Minnesota.)
When asked about the weather forecast for Saturday, and whether he’s ready to possibly play in snow, Rossetto was a little hesitant (maybe I was imagining things, but he seemed to instinctually shiver).
“It would be my first game playing in snow, so that’ll be interesting,” Rossetto said.
The team will travel on Thursday and train in Denver on Friday to get used to the altitude. Against the Rapids, Atlanta United will be without one of its main starters. Araújo will be out for the foreseeable future, as the club announced on Tuesday. The forward is expected to miss about four weeks due to a hamstring injury he sustained during the opener against Sporting Kansas City.
As the two Brazilians on the team, and both native Portuguese speakers, Rossetto and Araújo are close friends. When asked about how his friend is doing, Rossetto said that seeing the injury made him feel sad and emphasized that all his teammates feel for Araújo.
“He’s a really important player for us,” Rossetto said. “So, we’re just trying to give him positive encouragement and positive energy so he can have a full recovery.”