Before Mitch Hildebrandt ever joined the goalkeeping fleet of Atlanta United, he could envision himself between the ATL UTD sticks. The club’s inaugural year made quite the first impression both on and off the field, and its character drew him in immediately.
“Obviously, [I saw] what everybody around the world saw,” said the 29-year-old, “the crowd, the support and then the thing that I noticed that made me really excited about it – when Carlos, Paul, Aron and Tata wanted to bring me here – was the style of play.
Hildebrandt signed with the Five Stripes in December after spending two strong seasons with FC Cincinnati in the USL. But the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year knows that MLS is a different ball game, in particular the caliber of players and the speed of play.
“I think there are certain teams in the USL that can compete but as an overall league, the MLS is a lot faster, especially the way we play. And I’ve already seen it these three weeks. It’s very, very fast and you have to make decisions very quickly.”
It’s not an easy transition, however it’s an adjustment that Hildebrandt is hoping to master as fast as possible.
“I think not only the physical aspect but we’re also training the mental aspect of our style of play and for me I have to step up to that learning curve pretty quickly.”
But the stress of playing in a new league, joining a new team and impressing a new coaching staff is can be relieved by a welcoming culture at a club. And Hildebrandt says it’s been that and nothing short.
“Fantastic locker room. Everybody seems to get along with each other, everybody wants to help each other and I think that that’s a winning mentality for the club. When everybody accepts somebody new like myself and they immediately want to help me with the system, help me with the way that we’re set up to play, and then immediately involve me in day-to-day aspects of the club, I think that’s the basis of a winning atmosphere and a winning culture.”
For Hildebrandt’s position in particular, this mentality has been crucial. With three goalkeepers on the team and just one spot in the eleven, the competition is extremely tough, so it can be easy for these situations to breed animosity amongst players. But the camaraderie between the goalkeeping unit at Atlanta is a strong, collaborative one, with a unanimous goal in mind.
“There are three of us and we all want to play and we all want to win. If Brad’s number is called, then Alec and I are there to get him ready for the match. If I’m called to play then I will do my best to help the team win. I think Brad said it best – and we’ve all said it since I’ve been here – is that we’re the goalkeeper union. That means we’re here to help each other and compete at the same time which will ultimately help the team.”
Outside of the training field and the locker room, Hildebrandt has been taken back by the compassionate and accepting culture of Atlanta itself.
“You go to the supermarket and everybody says hi to each other and it’s just a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.”
And how those same people care for the team and the club has impressed him all the same.
“The city is really embracing this club to be one of the best in MLS and I know that everybody here wants to win.”
In a new season, in a new city, with a new team, Hildebrandt has one goal in mind for 2018.
“Anything that I can do to help bring the MLS Cup to Atlanta.