There was a buzz among the Atlanta United faithful Monday as the Five Stripes officially began preseason training at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground. It’s a new year with new goals and new expectations for the players and the technical staff as well.
“It’s been a long offseason,” said VP and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra, “a little longer than we hoped getting knocked out of the playoffs too early. So the guys are hungry. But it’s the first day back, and I think everyone’s excited to be back in the building and get back on the field.”
While last year ended with a disappointing playoff exit, nothing could overshadow an incredible debut year with records broken on and off the field. But the past is the past, and Bocanegra says the team’s focus is locked onto the future.
“Last year we wanted to come in and be competitive without having to mortgage our future, so we put ourselves in a good spot,” Bocanegra said. “Thirty guys coming together in a short amount of time, it was a big credit to the staff and players for fighting through it and becoming a team really quickly. Then we were able to strengthen in the offseason, and now we want to be in the conversation every year to win the championship.”
Among those offseason acquisitions were midfielders Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe, two major additions to an already-potent attack. But while head coach Tata Martino is excited for the weapons at his disposal –– and joked he’d have to start fielding 13 players at a time –– he’s been around long enough to know matches aren’t won in the offseason.
“We’re not guaranteed anything this season,” Martino said through a translator. “There are a lot of teams in this league who play very well. It’s true that we made a big signing with Barco, last year we did something similar with Miguel. But there are other teams in this league ready to compete as well.”
Atlanta United leadership said all offseason long they were trying to build on their success, not blow up what they had already built. So when rumors were raised about a possible departure of Carlos Carmona, Bocanegra was quick to shoot them down.
“We hear rumors all the time,” Bocanegra said. “Carlos [Carmona] is here, he’s under contract with us, he’s our player. So he’s not going anywhere. Yes, he’s expected to stay for the season.”
With exciting additions to an already-successful team, expectations are high for Atlanta United’s remarkable debut. In some ways that raises pressure, but the club is determined to not be a one-season wonder.
“We’ll have a little bit of a target on our backs, but it doesn’t change anything,” Bocanegra said. “We’ve got to go out there, work hard, and prove to everyone that we belong. It’s only been one year. There are teams in this league that have been around for 15-20 years and have done well consistently. That’s what we have to do, keep building year after year."