Atlanta United 2 is looking forward to what players and coaches are calling “a fresh start” as it’s USL campaign kicks off tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Hartford Athletic at the team’s new home ground at Fifth-Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw.
Anyone who paid attention to Atlanta United 2 last season knows the struggles the team endured under then-manager Scott Donnelly in what was always going to be a huge undertaking to stay competitive in the league. As an organization, Atlanta United learned just how difficult it is to manage squad rotation, tactical philosophies, and logistical challenges while keeping the team motivated and ambitious.
This year, new manager Stephen Glass hopes to change the mindset of the club. Yes, he wants it to be a proving ground for young players. Yes, he wants to maintain tactical synergy with Frank de Boer’s first team squad. But, in what is a stark difference to last season, he wants to instill a winning mentality in his side.
“It’s development, it’s winning, it’s everything. It’s not alright to get beat,” Glass told media this week.
Echoing those senitments with even more veracity was 30-year old defender Tyler Ruthven.
“On a personal level, the only thing I give a shit about is winning,” said Ruthven. “That’s the only reason I’m still playing. That’s the only reason I wake up in the morning. I know I’m in a unique role in this organization right now to try to help push those guys through, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m paid to win games and that’s always been the case.”
It’s easier said than done. If anyone knows the challenges of life in USL, it’s Ruthven, who hails from Alpharetta, Ga.. Ruthven has played with everyone from New York Red Bulls in MLS to Arizona United (now renamed Phoenix Rising) in his 12th professional season. He’s one of the few veteran players on an Atlanta United 2 team that has an average age of just 21.4 years, and his leadership alongside friend and captain Jack Metcalf will be of utmost importance. He knows it.
“Last year when I cam here — and I don’t mind saying this now — that was a deflated group,” said Ruthven. “I was coming from [Miami FC] where we had to win every night — that was the expectation of the organization. It was a veteran group. And then [in Atlanta] it was the other end of the spectrum, where it was kind of a developmental role. The team had been losing and didn’t know how to get out of it. Unfortunately with young players, when you get in a run like that, the hardest thing is to make it stop because you feel like you’re in quicksand and you’re drowning a little bit. It’s a fresh start. There’s no pressure of a run of bad results yet, and hopefully we don’t get there.”
Atlanta United 2 will still serve a purpose for development though, whether it’s giving opportunities to young players that earn time with performance in training or first team players that need minutes to stay sharp. But Glass says it’s a challenge he’s very much looking forward to.
“It’s one of the perks of the job — you get to work with really good players,” said Glass. “[The roster] changing day-on-day is a challenge for me as a coach and us as a staff, but it’s something that we’re more than capable of and happy to do, because we know it’s going to give us a good group of players to work with and a good product on the park.”
And the park that Glass spoke about is another positive, as the club will play its first official game in its new home stadium tonight.
“It’s night and day, to be honest. I only played at Coolray twice... but it was a difficult place to fit a pitch... a lot of things made it difficult,” said Ruthven. “I grew up here, and I remember when KSU built that place. It’s built for soccer. You can tell as soon as you get inside. And that’s helpful. It raises the professionalism. Even little things like your eagerness to play the game when you pull into the stadium is ramped up because you know it was built for what you’re doing. We’re excited about it.”