It was all sunshine and smiles Tuesday morning at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground as Atlanta United prepared to play New York City FC on Wednesday.
Coming off the heels of an international break that saw six key players called up, the group that stepped on the training pitch was missing several important players. Thiago Almada, Luis Abram, Derrick Etienne Jr, Miles Robinson and Giorgos Giakoumakis were away on national team duty. Of those, only Almada has any chance of being available for Wednesday’s match according to head coach Gonzalo Pineda. The team availability report lists him as questionable.
Santiago Sosa was absent due to his ankle injury and Luiz Araújo departed the club early to join his new club Flamengo.
On a more positive note, a few players returned to the training ground. Luke Brennan and Nick Firmino joined the first-team training session and Pineda later confirmed that the pair would receive short-term agreements to the first team for Wednesday’s match against NYCFC and Saturday’s away game at New York Red Bulls.
After Defensa y Justicia terminated his loan, Edwin Mosquera returned to team training, but he won’t be available for selection until the summer transfer window opens on July 5th.
Until then, the club needs to figure out how to turn four U22 players into three whether by moving a player out or by removing the U22 label from one of them (which would require significant amounts of TAM) to stay roster compliant.
During the morning’s press scrum, Pineda was asked about how it was to have Mosquera back.
“Good,” Pineda said, “He’s not available, obviously, for playing. When something changes to that statement, they will let you know, but at the moment he is training with us. Very happy to have Edwin, he’s a great kid and he’s been very good in training sessions.”
Pineda said he didn’t know how the club would make it so Mosquera could play or even if he would play for the Five Stripes this season.
Erik Lopez trained on his own after recovering from an ankle injury. He is listed as questionable on the team’s availability report.
Pineda was asked about whether Araújo was allowed to depart the club early and why.
You may have already assumed, but I can confirm Luiz Araujo has played his last game with Atlanta United. He was originally set to be with the team through the June 24 game against RBNY.— J. Sam Jones (@J_SamJones) June 18, 2023
“Yes. We thought that it was time for us to focus on the next couple guys and also him, I can imagine he’s very excited about the move and so I felt that for both parties it was the best thing to start the process and accelerate the process,” Pineda said.
When asked about which kind of winger he would prefer to bring in for Araújo, Pineda said that the club doesn’t like to think of players as isolated from the rest and tries to bring in players that will combine with others already present.
“We are analyzing different positions to reinforce and different profiles for all of them. For us, the things that we are trying to think is not just one player, one position isolated from the rest. It’s the conjunction of that, the pairs and how this player combines with that player and what characteristics of this player are going to suit better to that one. And since we’re gonna do probably- hopefully more than one signing, then we have to look at that and how those players can affect the team in a very good way. I cannot give a lot of hints on right-footed, left-footed, inverted winger, natural winger. I think that can change depends on the type of players we get and at times you don’t get exactly what you want in one position and then maybe that changes the plan for the other one. It happens like that, but we are in constant communication with everyone in the [front] office trying to take a decision on those,” Pineda said.
Pineda declined to give a specific number of signings during the summer or which positions he’d like to strengthen.
Pineda also said he was glad to have Osvaldo Alonso back and praised his medical staff for the hard work they put into returning to fitness five players who suffered long-term injuries last season.
“Great to have Ozzie back. It’s very emotional every time, you know? Brad, Miles, Ozzie, now Justin Garces with the second team. We are very, very happy about it. What I want to say publicly is our medical staff is great At times from the outside we don't perceive all the effort they put in every day with them, but it’s been a long process with all of them and it's not easy to have four long-term injuries in one season. Five with Dylan Castanheira and they’ve been doing a great, great job of bringing them back. Kudos to my medical fitness side because at times from the outside maybe it is not appreciated everything they do. Here internally, we love them. We know how much they care about the players,” Pineda said.
Alonso gladly greeted the media members with a smile before speaking to them. He was asked several questions pertaining to his recovery and fitness. He said that returning to the pitch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against DC United was a very special moment which he called in a tweet the “happiest day of his career.”
When asked why he called that day the happiest after winning plenty of trophies throughout his long playing career, he replied that it was the result of a long journey full of a lot of work, pain and learning.
“Finally I did it,” Alonso said, “I’m so happy to go through that process because I learned a lot.”
The 37-year-old Cuban veteran explained that his recovery took longer than usual for an ACL tear since he required a second surgery this past September to remove excess scar tissue in his knee.
Alonso also stated that he never considered retirement while recovering from his ACL tear.
“As soon as I get my injury, I say ‘it’s another challenge in my life I have to go through and be ready to play again,’” Alonso said.
Atlanta United’s next two matches will be at home against NYCFC on Wednesday, June 21 and away to New York Red Bulls on Saturday, June 24. Kickoff time for both matches is set for 7:30 pm EST.