March 10, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz knocks FC Cincinnati forward Kekuta Manneh to the turf during the first half in their MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United players trying to handle social distancing

Jeff Larentowicz considers himself fortunate. 

He is sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic in a home with his family, two things he said are necessary. 

He has space and people to talk to. 

But he said if this were happening at the beginning of his career, and he was stuck in a small apartment in Boston by himself as a 23-year-old ...

“I would really be struggling right now,” he said. 

Atlanta United’s players are handling this new social distancing as best they can, mostly like us, as they wait on a resumption of training and MLS games. 

This experience may be slightly different, though, for athletes such as those who play for the Five Stripes. 

Athletes are used to structure, schedules, cycles, whatever term is preferred. For Atlanta United, it’s typically practices in the mornings. Cool-down sessions afterward. Video sessions are a few days before games. And then, of course, games. There’s also weight-lifting, media sessions, etc. Each day is different but there are patterns that become familiar and comfortable.

Larentowicz has experienced this structure since being drafted by New England in 2005. 

“You do miss the interaction,” he said. “You get spurts of it, bursts here and there.” 

In that spot that Larentowicz wondered about is midfielder Mo Adams, a 23-year old who is in his fourth year in MLS. He’s not married and doing his best to handle this new normal. 

“Being around a team for most of your life you cherish the moments of being a close-knit group together and with the contact,” he said. “It’s very different right now, I must say. I understand that it’s a global situation and we all have to practice social distancing. It can be extremely tough. It can be very boring. 

“But you have to remain accountable. It’s not just impacting you. It’s impacting everyone else around you. The right things to do is stay alone.” 

Making this situation more challenging is Atlanta United’s players have spent a lot of time together during this very short season. 

Training camp started in mid-January. It included weeks in Bradenton, Fla. in which the players spent a lot of time together training or going on field trips to build chemistry. There were trips to Birmingham, Ala. and Mexico. 

The season was more of the same. Trips to Honduras and Mexico for Champions League games, as well as a league games in Nashville and another at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The players were seldom apart until the first training moratorium was issued on March 12. The players do exchange texts, but right now there’s not a whole lot to discuss because not much is changing. 

 “To then now have this social distancing and the break from each other, it certainly has a weird feeling to it,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “But it’s something that has to be done. We all understand that.” 

The players are finding different ways to stay engaged with soccer. 

The team has sent each player personalized video clips to analyze. Though the season just started, the team had already played five games and five preseason games. Adams said he and assistant coach Rob Valentino discuss angles on the ball, angles to bring pressure, and how to quickly switch the point of attack when Adams wins or receives the ball. The goalkeepers do something similar

“You have to use it to your advantage,” Adams said. “It gives everyone an opportunity to stay ahead of things. everything you’ve wanted to but haven’t had the time.” 

In addition to the videos, Larentowicz watches classic Premier League games. So does Adams. Both have watched some of the replays of Atlanta United games. 

There is no end in sight. The league announced Thursday night that the training ban would last through at least April 24.

Weird times. 

“It’s uncharted waters, right?” Guzan said. “We’ve never had anything like this happen for anyone in the world. 

“Kind of trying to navigate it has been unprecedented but we are trying to do the best we can.”

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