Erik Centeno ready to compete for minutes at Atlanta United

Atlanta United selected Erik Centeno, a forward from Pacific, with the 19th pick in the first round of the MLS draft on Tuesday.

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Atlanta United selected Erik Centeno, a forward from Pacific, with the 19th pick in the first round of the MLS draft on Tuesday.

Erik Centeno, selected by Atlanta United with the 19th pick in the first round of Tuesday’s MLS draft, said he will play whatever position the team needs, but that he prefers the wing.

Playing many positions as a freshman at Pacific, Centeno scored six goals with five assists in 16 starts. He was named first-team All-West Coast Conference and the conference’s Freshman of the Year. He signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS after the season.

“I’m going to get there, work as hard as I can and hopefully earn some minutes,” said Centeno, who prefers to go by “Danny,” which is part of his middle name. “But I’m going to do whatever I can to try to do that.”

Atlanta United’s roster is stacked with wingers and wingbacks on the right side, so minutes with the senior team will be difficult to earn.

Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said Tuesday that the four draft picks will have a chance to earn a first-team spot. He also cautioned that it will be difficult. For every Julian Gressel, who stepped into a starting role, and Miles Robinson, who developed into one of the best defenders in MLS, there are three times as many picks made by the team who are no longer even with Atlanta United 2.

“That’s definitely something that us as the club and the coaching staff will talk to the kids about, but for all these kids, it’s about coming in humble, putting their head down, working hard every day, trying to compete and do the best they can,” he said. “We also realize that it’s a big jump up from college straight to the first-team level.”

Centeno said he likes taking on defenders one-on-one, is a good dribbler, and enjoys scoring goals. He said he needs to work on his weaker foot and improve his strength.

“I feel like I’m ready to step in most environments,” he said.

Centeno is familiar with Atlanta United. As the child of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States 25 years ago, he said he follows things from Mexico closely. So, he follows Atlanta United’s Jurgen Damm (who is from Mexico) on social media. His parents and older brother told him that manager Gonzalo Pineda was a really good player for clubs and for the national team, which Centeno also follows.

Centeno said his dream is to play for Real Madrid in a Champions League game. He counts his mom among his biggest influences because of her dedication in getting him to practices and games.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1

March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

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