Well, friends. We’ve made it. It’s officially match week for Atlanta United.
The preseason wrapped up last weekend with a win over expansion club St. Louis CITY SC in a preseason friendly. Now, Atlanta United turns the corner toward the club’s seventh season of play in MLS.
Thursday marked the first media availability of the season on a match week. The open part of training was brief, but we saw the group warm up on the near side of the pitch in their sleek new grey training tops. Then, players took part in two-touch passing, working the ball around a mannequin before sending it to a teammate on the other side. The training group included Luis Abram, the new international acquisition who played some minutes for Atlanta United in St. Louis, and Luke Brennan, the 17-year-old who quickly made a name for himself by scoring a goal during the American Family Insurance Cup on February 15.
There’s a lot of anticipation for Saturday, and there’s a lot to look forward to, including seeing the team in the new primary kit for the new season. Here are a few other things to come out of media availability on Thursday:
Building off preseason
Atlanta United completed their preseason schedule last weekend with a closed match against expansion club St. Louis CITY SC. The preseason ended on a high note for Atlanta United behind two goals from Luiz Araújo and Thiago Almada.
The match was closed, but head coach Gonzalo Pineda offered a little insight into how the team performed in their final friendly of the preseason:
“Last game, it was important for us to win and gain some confidence in the process, and we did,” Pineda said. “We played very well in certain moments. Most of the game, we were dominating possession and creating some chances. There are some things to correct, for sure, but I’m very happy with the momentum that Luiz [Araújo], that Thiago [Almada] has in terms of impacting in the final third.”
Pineda has said that he viewed the preseason as a “progression,” which began on January 28 with a friendly against Chattanooga FC. In that match, Araújo scored a brace and the teams tied 3-3. Then, Atlanta Untied faced two preseason matches in Mexico against Liga MX clubs Atlante FC and Cruz Azul. Finally, the American Family Insurance Cup provided a small preview for Saturday, filling Mercedes-Benz Stadium back up with red and black 17s.
The Atlanta United head coach said he was happy with the level of competition the team faced during the preseason and how the progression evolved.
“From my side, I’m excited about the beginning of the season,” Pineda said. “I think we have had very good, competitive matches in preseason, like as good or as challenging as an MLS game… It’s been a good preseason in terms of testing us, and we were right there with every team.”
Luis Abram and Luiz Araújo
Two Atlanta United players, from opposite ends of the pitch, met with the media this week. First, defensive addition Luis Abram. The club’s first-ever Peruvian player, and first-ever left-footed center back, has been described as a calm and cerebral player – and he certainly was when speaking to reporters. The 26-year-old from Lima, Peru answered questions coolly in English, which he learned in school growing up.
Some of his new teammates Abram is familiar with – and some he’s still getting to know. The defender played with Almada at Vélez Sarsfield in Argentina (in fact, Almada helped announce Abram’s signing with Atlanta United on social media). Abram is also integrating to the backline, where he’s expected to add depth and join the rotation of center backs Miles Robinson and Juanjo Purata.
“I’m very happy to be here, and we will work hard to achieve the goals we have here,” Abram said.
The other player to speak with the media this week was another lefty, but one who plays more in the attack. Luiz Araújo spoke on Thursday, sporting a new number (no. 10) on his training gear.
Araújo shared that he’s felt really good so far in preseason, and it’s shown – the forward scored six goals in preseason. He’s also feeling motivated to keep scoring, and after putting six balls in the back of the net so far in 2023, it’s possible that Araújo, the player to score the first MLS goal for Atlanta United last season, may repeat the feat in 2023.
“I’m very happy to have scored six goals in preseason, but I think it’s due to the work that I’ve been putting in and also the confidence that I have for myself and the confidence that Gonzalo [Pineda] and the staff have in me,” Araújo said. “But right now, the important thing is this first game. We want to get three points.”
Season kickoff excitement
Naturally, there’s a lot of excitement building this week as we get closer to kickoff for the first official MLS match of the season. A new primary kit, the first Saturday of MLS matches on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV, the first season under Garth Lagerwey and several new players added to the mix.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about Saturday, that the players are looking forward to, is seeing their supporters once again fill Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a matchday environment.
“We’re very excited about the match here in our home, with our fans, so it’s going to be fantastic,” Abram said.
“I think the first game is important,” Araújo said. “That’s why we’re all really motivated. We’re all working hard and we want to start with winning three points in this game. So it is important, but also it’s important at the end of the season and we want to be playing at the end.”
There are some butterflies too for some players. Saturday marks the first MLS match for two players who were sidelined for a significant part of 2022, Robinson and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Pineda confirmed on Thursday that, if Guzan starts on Saturday, he’ll be the captain.
Overall, there’s a buzz in the air around the Training Ground this week. For Atlanta United, the feeling for matchday on Saturday brings nothing but excitement.
“For me, we’re just excited about starting to roll some good plays, good goals and I’m just excited about my team, so we just have to show it on Saturday,” Pineda said.
It’s going to be an exciting start to the season, and you don’t want to miss it! There are tickets still available to Saturday’s match, so secure your seat today!