Learning and Growing: Patrick Nielsen's development through the game

ATL UTD 2 defender Patrick Nielsen’s dream has always been to play soccer at the highest level. Growing up in Denmark, that meant coming to college in America so he could continue to play and further his education. While in college, Nielsen had to improve his conditioning in order to match the athletic abilities of his opponents and teammates. 

“In Denmark, the philosophy is to be very technical from a young age. We don’t really focus too much on the physicality of the game. It’s more the technical aspects of the game,” Nielsen explained. “When I came to the US, I was playing against great athletes who could run forever and were big and strong. That was definitely something I needed to adjust to. I’m a fairly big guy, but I needed to add on some muscle to withstand that extra pressure that American soccer brought.”

While adding strength and fitness to his repertoire, Nielsen saw another opportunity to further his game. He transferred from the University of Cincinnati to Michigan State University and made the jump from a Group of Five conference to a Power Five. Soon, he caught the eye of the ATL UTD front office who then selected Nielsen with the 23rd overall pick in the 2020 MLS Superdraft and subsequently signed with ATL UTD 2. 

“The club offered me that second team deal. For me, it was a no-brainer,” Nielsen stated with confidence. “I was already within the club and loved the people around the club, so I thought it was a pretty easy decision for me to sign that.”

Much like in college, Nielsen had to adjust his play at the professional level. The game sped up, and he needed to make sure he could keep up. Nielsen used his time in quarantine to make those adjustments, knowing he could make an impact as soon as he was ready.

“It all was just a little faster. Everyone was just a couple seconds faster than what I was used to. That was definitely something you needed to get used to. I didn’t feel like I was struggling, I just needed to pick up the pace to make sure I didn’t slow down the game,” Nielsen continued. “The speed of play and people were a lot smarter. They knew the game a lot better. Tactically it was also different. There were a few things I needed to adjust and learn at the very start. I’d say speed of play and tactical knowledge are the biggest differences.”

Nielsen got his professional debut last week against Charleston Battery and finally got to put his new skills to the test. Coming in at half-time, Nielsen helped secure a draw that gave ATL UTD 2 another point on the season.  Nielsen made his first professional start on Saturday against Birmingham Legion FC, recording 3 tackles and winning 2 fouls while playing all 90 minutes. On the pitch isn’t the only place Nielsen is growing. He left school early to get drafted, but he’s been working towards finishing his degree.

“I left school early, I had a year left. I’m doing online school to finish up my degree. I’ve been studying supply chain management, and my greatest interest within that is logistics. So I could see myself getting into logistics,” Nielsen speculated. “I’m just doing a few credits. It’s actually been kind of nice to have something to do in the afternoon. On a regular day, we’d be home by two then we’d have the rest of the day to ourselves. I think it’s been nice to have something to do and fill out your day with that.”

Between studying for his future and playing for his present, his first professional season will be filled with challenges and opportunities to make him better. He came to America with a dream, and with the 5-Stripes, he has a place to make it a reality. As he continues to pursue his education and grow within the game, Nielsen is confident Atlanta will provide him with the tools to get him where he wants to be.