Atlanta United’s Andrew Gutman has big expectations

Andrew Gutman became one of Atlanta United supporters’ favorite players last season because of his versatility and determination.

To say he was a fullback wouldn’t be totally accurate. To say he was a centerback wouldn’t be totally accurate. To say he was a striker wouldn’t be totally accurate. To say he was a wingback wouldn’t be totally accurate. There were times, sometimes in just a minute during a game, in which Gutman might transition from a centerback to a striker. Or a wingback to a centerback. Or a fullback to a winger.

Whatever was asked, he would do. And Gutman, 26, thinks he can build off last season, when he had four goals and two assists in 25 appearances.

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“I’m not someone that’s ever satisfied with my performances. To be honest, I don’t think I had the best year last year,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things I could improve on. So, yeah, just keep working hard and never being satisfied.”

Gutman is already putting in the work. Despite cold, nasty conditions for most of last week’s training sessions, Gutman and fellow fullback Brooks Lennon went out sans the cold-weather gear worn by their teammates and put in a session in shorts and a training top as protection from wind, temperatures in the 30s and 40s and sometimes spitting rain.

“It’s not that cold,” said Gutman, a native of the Chicago area.

Gutman said one of his biggest areas of improvement he is working on is finishing. He estimates he should have scored as many as nine goals last season. Of 31 shots, he put 14 on goal. He finished with an expected goals of 4.4, according to fbref.com.

He said the entire team needs to improve its finishing. It scored 48 goals in 34 games. The players who totaled almost 50% of those goals are no longer with the team.

“I think it’s just holding ourselves to a higher standard,” Gutman said. “Last year, the mentality was always like, ‘Oh, it’s OK. The next one’s coming. The next one’s coming.’ I think the mentality this year should be like, ‘No, every chance we get we need to score, no matter if we get 30 chances.’ "

Gutman also thinks he can improve his crosses.

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“I think my final ball when I get into these areas, because, year after year, I’m finding myself in great spots, and I think what’s letting me down is just my quality of my final ball,” he said. “So that’s something that I really thought about over the offseason and I want to try to implement this preseason.”

Defensively, he said there were moments when he was out of position and should have been punished, so that’s another focus. He said studying film will help his improvement in that area.

Gutman said he and manager Gonzalo Pineda have not yet discussed which position he will play this season. Gutman said it doesn’t matter. He will play wherever asked.

Something Gutman learned last year was how big the expectations are for the club. Not making the playoffs last season was massively disappointing.

“As a team, (we) need to come together and realize that this is a massive club. It expects trophies; it expects playoffs,” he said. “So, yeah, just building off of that.”

The injuries suffered by players last season – there were more than 20 instances that resulted in players missing multiple games – took a toll on the team’s confidence and affected performances and results. Gutman was on that long list because he suffered a quad injury in May that kept him out for almost two months.

Other injuries are why Gutman was the team’s nomadic starter.

“It seemed like, if those injuries kind of happened sporadically around the season, maybe it’d be OK,” he said. “But it just seemed like one after another. It was one guy went down, then another guy went down. And it takes a toll on the team, not only, you know, physically with the bodies, but also mentally, maybe guys are starting to think like, ‘What’s going on this year?’ So it was definitely tougher than I think a lot of people realized in the moment.”

But confidence is high during the preseason that results will be improved and those big expectations can be fulfilled.

“Gonzalo has implemented that it’s culture before anything right now,” Gutman said. “So we’ve made a couple changes in and around the training ground. You don’t play this sport just to play; you play for trophies. So, if you’re going into preseason thinking, ‘Oh, maybe we want to get into playoffs.’ That’s not the mentality. You got to go into preseason thinking, ‘We’re going to compete for the MLS Cup.’ I think everyone has that mentality.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m.

March 4 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

March 11 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA