Tyler Wolff feels he is more mature and ready to compete to try to earn more playing time with Atlanta United this season.
Speaking on Wednesday from the team’s training site at Mexico City, Wolff said his loan to a second-division club in Belgium for part of last season helped him grow as he tried to navigate a new culture, learn new languages, new teammates, new club and league.
“Hopefully, I can bring some of those things back with me and help throughout the season,” he said.
Wolff, a Homegrown signee, began last season well. He started the first four games, played one minute in the next three, and then started one more game. And, that was it.
His minutes decreased because Thiago Almada moved into the lineup at attacking midfielder and Marcelino Moreno returned from injury at left wing.
“It was tough to get into a rhythm, tough to get back into the squad,” he said.
The club and Wolff mutually agreed that a loan would benefit his growth. So, he was sent to SK Beveren in Belgium in July. The loan was supposed to be for its 2022-23 season, but Wolff was recalled in January after he made seven appearances that totaled 54 minutes.
Wolff, 18, returned to Atlanta United and was then called to the U.S. Under-20 national team camp, where he spent 10 days. He returned to Atlanta United last week.
“The next step is just finding my way to really get good minutes with the first team,” he said.
Wolff, who is slightly bigger and stronger than he was last year, said his goal this season is to make 15 appearances. He faces the same challenge he faced last season: a logjam. Almada will start at attacking midfielder. Derrick Etienne was signed as a free agent to play left wing. Caleb Wiley and Machop Chol also will compete for minutes at that position. Wolff said he will be fine if the team decides, in order for him to get minutes, that he spend some time with Atlanta United 2 because he just wants to keep learning.
“One thing I need to work on is producing more goals, assists, trying to be more dangerous in the final third,” he said. “Running behind the line is a big one we’ve been talking about this year. Right now, I just want to get on the field and produce as much as I can.”
Manager Gonzalo Pineda said Wolff underwent an MRI on his shoulder on Thursday for an undisclosed injury that he hopes isn’t too serious. He said Wolff has looked much better in camp than he did last season.
“He’s been sharp, very energetic,” Pineda said. “He’s been with a lot of intensity, but also quality. I think he looks a little bit different this year compared to last year, evolving his game, better decision-making and overall a better presence on the field. "
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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
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com