GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Atlanta United won the first of its three preseason matches in Mexico, defeating second-tier professional club Celaya FC 2-1 on Sunday at Estadio Tres de Marzo, a stadium on the campus of Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara.
An own goal created from Luiz Araújo and a late score from Jake Mulraney were the difference for Atlanta United.
The match kicked off at 1 p.m. local time and consisted of three 30-minute periods. Head coach Gonzalo Pineda sent out two different groups. The first XI started and stayed on the pitch for the second 30-minute period. Group no. 2 came on at the 60-minute mark. This allowed a majority of Atlanta’s players to see at least some time on the pitch.
“We faced a team that is already in-season and they are already in rhythm, and they were physically very demanding,” Pineda said. “So we are happy with the fitness outcome.”
For Atlanta United, Josef Martínez, Araújo and Tyler Wolff started up top. Ronald Hernández started at right fullback, Andrew Gutman played on the left. The two center backs were Alex De John and George Campbell. Ozzie Alonso, Matheus Rossetto and Franco Ibarra made up the midfield.
Celaya FC, wearing electric blue jerseys, was the most challenging opponent Atlanta has faced so far this preseason. The Mexican club proved its prowess by forcing Atlanta United to concede an early goal on a flying volley from Fernando Illescas that got past Atlanta’s starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
“It was a good preseason test for us,” De John said. “They were good, they were running, they were pressing us, putting us in uncomfortable situations. And that’s the whole point of the preseason is to work out the kinks.”
Wolff, who’s had a strong preseason for Atlanta, started with the first group and challenged Celaya with well-timed runs. Early in the half, Araújo found Wolff’s run toward goal and sent him a long cross. Wolff connected with the ball, but his one-touch shot went high.
Araújo and Wolff found each other again for a good opportunity that started when Gutman crossed a ball brought down by Hernández. Martínez let Hernández’s cross go so it found Wolff’s feet. He made a short pass to Araújo to his left who took a close-range shot that was blocked.
Rossetto, who got nicked in the face during the second period and afterward wore a bandage around his head, had a couple well-driven shots in the match. One was low to the ground that made Celaya goalkeeper Guillermo Allison dive; the other a one-touch shot that carried a little too high.
The first 30-minute segment ended with a promising moment for Atlanta. Araújo sent a free kick to Gutman, who showed some skillful footwork on the end line, and crossed into the box. Martínez got off a shot on goal that required a save.
Atlanta United went into the second 30 minutes down 1-0. Pineda kept the same XI on the field. Celaya substituted all XI around the halfway point of the second period.
That’s when Atlanta United got on the scoreboard with an own goal created by Araújo’s firmly driven ball. A few minutes later, Guzan came up big with a reactive save on a dangerous, rebounding ball to keep the game 1-1 heading into the final 30 minutes.
“I saw some good things, some good movement, some good connections there,” Pineda said. “The goal that we scored in the second period, it came out of something that we’ve been working on, so I’m pleased with that.”
Pineda sent out his second group for the last period. Jackson Conway played the no. 9 spot. Mulraney, Amar Sejdić and academy player Noah Cobb played midfield. Danny Centeno played winger. Machop Chol, who was recently on international duty with South Sudan, played on the left.
Bobby Shuttleworth took over for Guzan in goal. Aiden McFadden played right fullback with new Homegrown signee Caleb Wiley on the left. Mikey Ambrose played center back, complementing De John.
De John was the only player to go the full 90 minutes.
“I don’t get many of those,” De John said. “So when I get asked I’m definitely going to take full advantage of it.”
Mulraney did well in a playmaking position, attacking and pushing the ball forward. For his goal, he dribbled the ball to the top of the arc and cut the ball so sharply it made the the Celaya defender do a split. His goal put Atlanta ahead 2-1.
“Hopefully, that’s a little bit different than some of the other players that play there normally,” Mulraney said. “I’m probably more attacking whereas other boys are probably cleaner on the ball. They tend to link up and make passes more, whereas I try to use the dribble a little bit more.”
The second group created chances, most notably a blazing strike from Ambrose. Conway also had a low-driven ball that went wide. Ambrose had another opportunity on a free kick at the top of the arc, but the shot sailed over the crossbar.
Some members of Atlanta United didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Miles Robinson is getting some rest after playing with the U.S. national team. Brooks Lennon and Marcelino Moreno are still day-to-day with injuries. Emerson Hyndman rested. Alan Franco was in health and safety protocols.
Atlanta United has two more friendlies during its preseason trip in Mexico. The club will face Chivas and Tepatitlán FC next Sunday, Feb. 13 after another week of training in Guadalajara.
We’ll have more coverage this week so stay tuned at ATLUTD.com/mexico and ATLUTD on Twitter.