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Jeff Larentowicz, Tyrone Mears, and Andrew Carleton preview the 2017 season

The players talk challenges and excitement as they open the MLS calendar Sunday

Dave Williamson Photography

The 2017 season is less than a week away and Jeff Larentowicz, Tyrone Mears, and Andrew Carleton talked to reporters on Tuesday about the preseason and looked ahead to the first game against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.

With Atlanta United being his fifth team in his 12 years in the league, Jeff Larentowicz spoke about what it is like playing for an expansion team as opposed to the more established sides he’s played for in the past. While it is a new experience for him, the midfielder said, “the club has done a really good job to get us prepared, and they have been working on it for a little over a year or year and a half, and it’s been really good, it is definitely a club with a lot of potential.”

Larentowicz also talked about the preseason and how the team has spent the last weeks building for the season opener against New York. In the preseason, he noted that “I think one thing we did was focus on ourselves” with time to build chemistry at their training camp in Florida. He discussed how last week, the team changed gears and is preparing for the opening weekend adding, “As we moved through last week we got more MLS competition, when we get through this week we’ll be ready for Sunday.”

While there will certainly be a learning curve for the early part of the season, Larentowicz thinks the team will have a lot of energy going into the first week saying, “staring off we’ll be able to ride the wave of excitement starting Sunday and I think it’ll be really special.” The fans are helping to provide that statement as Atlanta United is nearing 50,000 tickets for the opening match on Sunday. Describing the fan reaction to the team, the midfielder observed, “it’s certainly something I haven’t seen elsewhere.”

The MLS season is a meat grinder. There are midweek games, cross-country flights, and Mark Geigers. These elements combine to create challenges that some of the MLS newcomers and young players on the team may not have faced yet. Larentowicz talked about how the team is building leadership so that the team can face issues off the field as well as those on it. He remarked the key to preparing for the new season is “sharing the bits of wisdom that you have had with your time here. Not only myself but other guys as well, even if you are an experienced player there are things in this league that boggle your mind, or games that you don’t understand why you lost, or you don’t know how hard it is to travel across country. Those little things that certain guys are looking around the locker room for me or Michael [Parkhurst] to give wisdom about.”

For his part, Tyrone Mears talked about how important the fans would be and that they are part of what brought him to Atlanta saying, “We’re going to need the fan base. I signed for Seattle for the same reason, for the fan base. It was an amazing experience for me, playing for 50,000-60,000 people. It was like playing in Europe again and that’s what I’m hoping happens here.”

While Mears is excited, he also knows that an expansion team will face its share of growing pains. Although there is talent all over the roster he commented that, “It’s going to be difficult because it’s a new team, new things on the pitch, off the pitch, I’m sure we’re going to get a few little bumps through the season but in terms of talent and the coaching staff we should be fighting on all fronts.”

The defender went on to discuss how his new manager will look to play with the talent that the team has assembled. For his part, Mears will have a different role with the team than he did with Seattle saying, “I think with Tata, it will be different he wants fullbacks to attack. He wants all the play in the opponents end so it’s going to be exciting to watch. Obviously for a defender there’s going to be a lot of goals, but hopefully we’re scoring more than them”

Daren Eales has said that he wants the team to play exciting soccer with a pressing style and lots of goals. While preseason showed promise, Atlanta United will have to come together more and polish their game plan. The style of the team is starting to take shape but Mears says, “it’s going to take a lot of work, we’ve tried it in preseason, it’s starting to work, the players are starting to get it into their heads.”

Mr. Powder Springs Pulisic himself, Andrew Carleton, talked about his mindset coming into the preseason. While the hype train has left the station, he remains focused on working hard to make the squad saying, “I just came in and tried to work my hardest, it’s up to coach Tata, it’s not up to me. I’m just supposed to do what I know how to do and just play soccer and let God take it from there.”

Carleton talked about what the opportunity to play in his hometown means to him saying, “to be able to grow up and be here now and be able to get to that level of play here in my hometown, it’s a dream come true honestly, it’s pretty special.”

The midfielder also spoke about the fan following the team has and is looking forward to Sunday saying, “it’s exciting, to be able to have 40,000-50,000 people there it’s going to be insane, I know it is going to be super loud and super hyped.” While he’s gotten a lot of attention from the fans, Carleton also looks to set an example saying, “it’s awesome to have the support of the fans and the little kids who one day aspire to be able to come up this path and just lead the way for them and be a good role model.”

The highlight reel plays and unbelievable touch that Carleton has is the product of ability and raw talent. He also mentioned another key to the skill moves that he has is mental saying, “Just to be able to do little things like that and have the belief and confidence to do it.”

Atlanta’s first homegrown player certainty has a lot of confidence and looks like he took a big step from his time last season with the Charleston Battery. He talked about his time in the USL and credits it with his development, saying “Playing with the grown men last year helped me tremendously, being able to play with the Battery and being able to play against other USL teams.”

Carleton will be taking another big step Sunday as the 16 year-old and the rest of his teammates make Atlanta soccer history this weekend.