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Thiago Almada debuts in Atlanta United’s 3-0 defeat to C.D. Guadalajara; Dom Dwyer starts in 3-0 loss to Tepatitlán FC

That got real spicy real quick.

Atlanta United

In the first game of Atlanta United’s two-game series to finish off the team’s preseason training camp in Mexico, the Five Stripes took on Liga MX side C.D. Guadalajara. The Five Stripes lost 3-0 to Chivas in a physical preseason match-up that saw three injuries and two red cards.

Atlanta United’s newest signing, Thiago Almada, made his first appearance for the Five Stripes against Chivas, primarily featuring on the left side of Atlanta United’s front line. Miles Robinson stepped in to replace Alex de John, who has been starting for Atlanta United throughout the preseason.

Chivas opened the scoring in the 13th minute. Attempting to dribble out of the back, Miles Robinson lost the ball and left George Campbell in a 2v1 situation that resulted in Campbell giving away a penalty kick. Chivas converted to make it 1-0. In the 42nd minute, Chivas scored off a corner to extend their lead to 2-0.

Around the 55th minute, Cesar Muerta earned a red card after sliding studs up into Luiz Araújo. Luckily, Araújo didn't take too long to get up and he continued to play. The remainder of the match was pretty physical. Machop Chol, who came on as a sub in the second half, had to be taken off in the 65th after earning a yellow and for an over-exuberant foul that did damage to Chol himself.

Franco Ibarra, who was buzzing around the field and being quite literally the definition of chaos throughout the game, also picked up an injury.

Chivas made it 3-0 in the 72nd minute after a Chivas attacker managed to flick the ball around Miles Robinson and past Brad Guzan. The game finished off with another red card, this time to Josef Martinez for reasons unknown to those on the broadcast crew.

  • Thiago Almada’s debut

Almada played 50 minutes off the 80-minute match. It’s unfair to expect that the young Argentine slots in and immediately lights it up in a preseason friendly, especially against a team with the quality that Chivas has. He didn’t start getting on the ball until around the 10th minute, and he brought the ball out of the air with a deft touch to set himself up for Atlanta’s first shot of the match in the 25th minute.

However, Almada did start growing into the match. Whenever Atlanta found itself with a free kick or corner kick opportunity, Almada was often standing over the ball with Araújo. At this point, the main goal for Almada should be for him to start building chemistry with his teammates and building fitness for the MLS season.

  • Midfield Trio

Throughout preseason, Ozzie Alonzo, Franco Ibarra and Matheus Rossetto have featured in the midfield. As they continue to play together, it’s becoming more and more obvious that that particular trio of players are fairly interchangeable, and they aren’t afraid to get physical. Franco Ibarra in particular was an absolute menace throughout the match, while Alonso and Rossetto continue to work well together as they rotate positions in the midfield.

In the second match, a collection of reserves, Atlanta United 2 players, academy standouts, and Dom Dwyer took on Mexican second-division side Tepatitlán FC. Like in the first match, a tired and disjointed Five Stripes side fell 3-0 to the opposition.

The same frustration and physicality that came to dominate the first match continued into the second with Alan Franco earning the second red card of the day for Atlanta United in just the 60th minute. A safe assumption is that he disagreed with the Assistant Referee’s offsides decision that led to the Tepas’ 2nd goal.

An intense camp and several unexpected substitutions and injuries in the first match shifted the coaching staff’s plans for the second half of the double-header. Tyler Wolff was only available for half of the second match after an extended run of minutes as Almada’s substitute in the first match. The presumed starting left forward Machop Chol entered the first match for an injured Franco Ibarra and picked up an injury himself. Caleb Wiley, too, got extended minutes in each match.

The starting group that we got was Bobby Shuttleworth in goal; Wiley, Alex De John, Alan Franco, and Aidan McFadden across the back from left to right; Amar Sejdic, Noah Cobb, and Wolff in the midfield; and Jackson Conway, Dwyer, and Eric Centeno at the top. While there were good individual moments and solid individual performances across this group, they looked more like individuals than a team. This lack of chemistry or cohesion made playing a high-line precarious, made set-piece defending problematic, and made chances around goal nearly non-existent.

  • The Kids

The kids deserve a lot of praise for their work today. Noah Cobb was noticeably the most active and highest performing player for Atlanta and looked capable in his new holding midfield position. While the physicality of the game does not favor a teenager against grown opponents, Cobb did well with his feet, positioning, and speed to mostly hold his own. There were a few errors and moments of being bullied off of the ball but that comes with age and experience. Wiley played well, too, making a lung-busting recovery run to save a goal on one of the many times the Tepas broke through Atlanta’s high-set backline. Conway humbly and effectively stepped into the left forward position and adapted to its defensive responsibilities well despite having little experience at that position. He also dropped back to play something like a 10 or an 8 late in the match as attrition took its toll on the team’s ability to advance the ball.

  • Other Positives

Other players deserving of praise are Eric Centeno, Aidan McFadden, and Alex De John. Centeno looked dangerous on the right flank and continued to show the kind of shiftiness and speed that got him drafted. McFadden also looked good aside from one defensive lapse. He is still adapting to the right-back position and hopes to adjust to a higher level of play than the USL-Championship. De John also continued his ironman stretch, playing another full match as the most active defender on the field. His day was nearly cut short by an early ankle injury but he played through it and flew all over the field to try to keep his team in contention.

  • Dwyer

It is challenging to assess Dwyer from this performance. Like in the first match, the center-forward position was given very little service so Dwyer was forced to try to create his own chances and do the kinds of dirty work that he excels in. The problem there is that Atlanta United already knows he can do that but need to know whether he can still score. His performance in training camp that we have not seen may prove to be a greater impact than this mess of a match, but we saw enough from Jackson Conway today to show the club should not give up on their younger options just yet. Unlike last season when the club had a roster spot for Cubo Torres, this year’s depth and his unspectacular performance may be enough to keep him off of the roster.

That wraps up Atlanta United’s preseason training camp in Mexico. The club will return home with a lot of fitness issues and questions about their ability to create chances for their high-powered offense. There are plenty of bright spots, great ideas, and young players making the most of their moment, but so far the execution is falling short. The best thing for the club may be to return home to the friendly confines of their training grounds in Marietta and to their regular routines as they prepare for their final preseason match-up against the Birmingham Legion on the 20th.