ATLANTA — Atlanta United selected Gordon Wild with the 37th pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, taking a striker who had scored 22 goals in 40 games for the University of Maryland. Turns out, if Wild is going to make an impact for the Five Stripes, it will come out of the back, not leading the line. The 23-year-old, who has made the game-day 18 five times in all competitions this season, has received time working with the first 11 at fullback and wingback.
“It’s something new, but I think it’s a great opportunity for me to get to learn these new positions,” Wild said before training at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wednesday. “I have players around me that are world class at these positions, so I have all the tools around me to really learn that position and also make more diverse as a player.”
On loan last year, Wild played as a striker for the Charleston Battery. He appeared in 33 games and made 20 starts, finishing the season with seven goals and three assists. When Wild returned to Atlanta to start this season, new manager Frank de Boer and his coaching staff determined the German would have a better opportunity to find a role with the team out on the flanks. Atlanta is loaded with attacking talent, and Wild’s physical attributes make him a natural fit to bomb up and down the field. Wild has not yet made his first-team debut, but he has appeared twice as a wingback with Atlanta United 2.
“The coaching staff saw me the first couple days of training and saw that I’m athletic, I’ve got a good left foot, physically strong, can run a lot, decent speed and quick,” Wild said. “Those were, they thought, all qualities that are important as a wingback or left and right back.
“We have world-class players on top, so as a young player, that’s definitely much more challenging to get really involved when you have those people as competition. Not saying that the guys at our outside positions aren’t as good, but as a young player, it’s easier to get more involved in those kind of positions.”
Wild, who spent time in the Mainz 05 and SV Wehen Wiesbaden youth systems before moving to the United States, doesn’t have much experience playing as an outside back. “I did for, like, a week when I was in Germany. That’s probably eight years ago.”
The preseason move proved to be fortuitous for Atlanta, which has been hammered with injuries in the back. On the left, George Bello has not played since the season-opening game at Herediano because of a groin issue, and Mikey Ambrose tore his meniscus last week, ruling him out for three-to-five weeks. On the right, Franco Escobar missed all of preseason and the first six games with a broken collarbone, and he strained an abductor in his first game back last month.
Wild has been practicing at both outside positions.
“I’m quite comfortable with my right foot too, crossing and shooting it,” he said. “So depending on the position, that’s something that I’ve been working on and it’s been going pretty well. It can always get better, but I would say I have a decent right foot.”
The biggest adjustment to his new role is the defensive responsibility. Wild thinks playing as a defender actually improves his attacking abilities, because he now sees “the challenges defenders face,” and he is incorporating that knowledge into his game. De Boer wants Atlanta’s fullbacks and wingbacks to play a significant role in generating offense, which has been lackluster this season.
“Our style of playing is very attacking,” Wild said. “We want to create chances, so our left and right wingbacks or fullbacks, they’re a very big part of our attack, so he wants them to come high and be involved in the attack, not just sit back.”
Wild isn’t setting a goal for a certain number of games played or minutes this season. He wants to help what he calls “the best team in the county” and grow as a player in whatever ways he can.
“I think if you put too much expectation on anything, there’s bigger room to get disappointed, so I’m just enjoying the moment,” he said. “I’m trying to improve every single day that I can, and then we’ll see what happens.
“My first and foremost goal is to give it 100 percent every day, try to be consistent, and then the outcome takes care of itself. I’m focusing more on the process than the outcomes.”