Today is the day it all finally kicks off for Atlanta United. The players and coaching staff are finally gathering together today to kick off the club’s first ever training camp to prepare for the 2017 MLS season. Everyone will meet in Atlanta today to undergo physicals and make the trip down to Bradenton, Florida and the IMG Academy where the first 12 days of training camp will take place.
Over the past year, the club’s technical staff have been hard at work assembling a roster to compete in MLS. As we stand on January 23rd, 41 days from First Kick, the roster is nearing completion with a few more moves expected to be made to finalize the inaugural group tasked with making Atlanta United successful in year one.
Heading into camp there are several categories of players. You have your lock starters like Miguel Almiron and Kenwyne Jones. Then your depth players like Mikey Ambrose and Harrison Heath. In between those two groups is a rather large group of players who have a lot to prove and positions to earn. Here are three players we think have the most to gain from having a good showing in the club’s preseason:
Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron got all the headlines when they signed for Atlanta United. Asad’s signing sort of slipped under the radar and hasn’t been as talked about by fans or the media. One look at the attacker’s highlight reel and it’s obvious he’s a talented player with technical skill and an eye for goal.
The word out of Argentina is that attitude and off-the-field problems have plague Asad’s tenure at Velez Sarsfield. Coming to Atlanta will give him a fresh start without the pressures of living up to his father’s name, who was a legend at his previous club. If he can concentrate on playing his game and focuses on contributing to Atlanta United, he could be a vital player in 2017.
The looming threat of an additional attacking Designated Player incoming should have Asad looking over his shoulder. Playing time will not be guaranteed for him, so he’ll need to be on his game during training camp and the preseason to earn a spot in Tata’s preferred XI.
As the European Transfer window ticks down, it looks less and less likely that the rumored transfer of USMNT and Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Guzan to Atlanta United will happen before the MLS season starts. If it doesn’t, the starting job will be wide open for the taking to start the season. While Alec Kann certainly has the experience advantage over Tambakis, the club see something in him. There’s a reason they made him the first signing in club history. They wouldn’t have done it on a whim or just to do it. The technical staff have high hopes for him.
If he can impress in training camp and in preseason matches, he could find himself between the posts come March 5th with a chance to prove them right. Is one season with the Charleston Battery enough experience to insert him into the MLS spotlight already? It’s tough to say, but with a strong training camp he could earn a shot.
When talking about under the radar players on the Atlanta United roster, perhaps there’s none more so than Romario Williams. The former No. 3 overall draft pick has blazing speed and an eye for goal. At the very worst, he has a good chance to fall into the late-game super-sub role for the club. But, with Kenwyne Jones getting up there in age and inevitably needing rest and Brandon Vazquez missing time due to international duty, there’s a need for a striker to step up and take advantage of opportunities.
Those chances could fall to Williams early on by default and he’ll need to be ready to prove he’s capable of making an impact at the MLS level. The roster numbers and circumstances are in his favor, it’s up to him to grasp the chances and run with it. Most aren’t counting on him to contribute much to Atlanta this season, some even think he could be loaned out again. But, he has the chance to prove he belongs with a good showing in the preseason.