Young players hope promising performance puts them firmly in first-team picture

“Truthfully, we’ve trained to play, all of us.”

It’s a simple quote, articulated by Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu after the game, but it’s one that shone through clearly in Atlanta United’s final preseason match Saturday. It was a chance for first-team minutes, a chance to impress the manager, for some players who haven’t had a lot of first-team opportunities. But they were prepared, and they took it.

“I think the guys played well,” said Head Coach Tata Martino, through a translator. “I thought the movement of the ball was good tonight, the guys were precise and dynamic. “Miles [Robinson] was good marking as a defender and he is working on being able to play out of the back, which is important for him. [Andrew] Wheeler and [Andrew] Carleton were two of our best guys on the field.”

It was a promising performance from some of Atlanta United’s most promising young players. But the mentality of the team is strong, and they aren’t settling after this.

“I created some good opportunities,” Homegrown signing Andrew Carleton said after the game. “I could’ve been sharper in some areas, but everybody’s always trying to improve. I just have to look at the mistakes I made and try to keep growing from that. It’s always about getting better so that’s what I’m going to try focus on.”

While the youngsters took their chances to shine, there was crucial veteran balance in the lineup. And Wheeler-Omiunu, who impressed in both the center of midfield and at fullback, was quick to point to their importance in helping settle the less experienced players.

“Playing tonight with people like Kevin [Kratz] and [Michael] Parkhurst who have so much experience, they’re able to communicate with you,” he said. “You watch [Jeff] Larentowicz and [Chris] McCann play the six, you watch Greg [Garza] play outside back, who I believe are very successful at what they do for our team. Whatever position you’re asked to play, you try to learn from people who have that experience and are successful doing what they do.”

But both players pointed to a strong mentality among the team that allowed them to be prepared for a moment to impress. They say they’re crucially trying to push the players in the starting lineup to be better every day, and hoping to give Coach Martino something to think about when he’s putting together the gameday roster.

“I’m just focused on playing well every single day,” Carleton says. “It’s not my decision how much I play. I want to play more, I think everybody does, but my job is to go out there every day and be able to prove that I’m able to do that.”

And they certainly made an impression, with Coach Martino saying several players’ preseason performances had put them closer to first-team minutes. With the first match of the regular season approaching quickly, it’s important to maintain focus up and down the roster.

“[This week we must] keep working on the guys’ fitness and also their technique heading into the beginning of the season,” he said. “I think the games here served us well. The guys were competitive for 90 minutes in every game, we just have to keep working to get ready for opening weekend.”

The team now heads to Atlanta for a final week of preparation before going on the road to face the Houston Dynamo in the opening match of the 2018 MLS regular season. They’ll then return to Atlanta for their home debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 11th against D.C. United. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve secured yours here.