Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Dion Pereira makes debut in MLS, has eyes on Premier League

Since he was young, Dion Pereira has aspired to play in the English Premier League. He sees Atlanta United as a steppingstone to that achievement.

Pereira — who is from Watford, England — spent 10 years in the Watford club system, and played three seasons on Watford’s U23 team before coming to Atlanta United in January 2019. 

He had offers from lower-league clubs in England to play, but after conversations with his family and agent, along with connections to Atlanta, he saw the opportunity to play for Atlanta United in the MLS as a platform to play as a young star and to be noticed. 

“Everyone has different paths,” Pereira said. “Some people go straight to the Premier League, but for me this is the best opportunity I can get to get to where my dreams are later down the line.” 

He earned a chance recently to be noticed on the big stage. Pereira came off the bench as a sub for midfielder Julian Gressel in Atlanta United’s match against FC Dallas on Saturday and made his MLS debut. 

“I didn’t actually have an idea I was going to play,” Pereira said. “Obviously I knew I was going to be on the bench, but when he shouted my name when I was warming up, it was like ‘whoa.’” 

He played 10 minutes in the game, getting a few touches during his time on the field. He worked to stay confident in attacking and focused on creating chances on offense and playing as forward as he could. 

He wants to continuing improving his abilities in one-on-one situations, an area from Saturday’s match in which he said he could have done better. He said if he can compete with players such as Ezequiel Barco in the one-on-one situations, he will improve his abilities and possibly earn playing time. 

Pereira has played with Atlanta United’s second team as well, which has built his confidence. He said he trains with the first team each day, but then plays matches with the second team. He tries to play how he is coached on the first team, and it has heightened his assurance in his game. 

Darlington Nagbe, a midfielder for the Five Stripes, said Pereira’s confidence has grown since he joined the club in January. He’s become more familiar with the other athletes and team, which has allowed him to excel. 

“In training you can tell he’s a quality player, he might be one of our best one-v-one attackers,” Nagbe said. “Really skillful on the ball, got good pacing strength. So I’m excited to see more from him.” 

In his first few months, Pereira sees differences between how teams in the MLS play, compared with Watford. He said teams press from the front more, a tactic the Five Stripes employ. 

It’s a technique that not as many teams in the Premier League use; many sit back and wait for a chance to attack, he said. He notices the difference and said when MLS players press on the defenders, the defenders are more likely to make mistakes, which creates chances to attack. 

As Pereira works to gain more playing time, he remembers that feeling from stepping on to the pitch for the first time in his MLS career. He knows his daily training is paying off, allowing him the chance to be seen on the big stage, and work to fulfill his ultimate dream. 

“To be able to get it so early coming here, it’s amazing,” Pereira said. “Best feeling ever.” 

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