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Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew SC, 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup: What to watch for

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After a fun and successful preseason opener, the challenge gets real.

Atlanta United’s opening preseason match was more theater than competition. While the 4-0 win was really fun to watch, the occasion was a celebration of Southeastern soccer and Atlanta’s first ever match in front of their fans. With all due respect to Chattanooga FC, the preseason gets real this weekend with the beginning of the Carolina Cup Challenge.

The difficulty level for the club is about to receive a significant bump up with the Columbus Crew (Sat., 4 p.m.) on tap for Tata Martino’s side. While it’s still the preseason and kinks are to be expected, it should be a good challenge (pun not intended) for Atlanta playing against MLS competition for the first time. How will they measure up? How will Tata’s style react to a higher level of opponent? So many questions to be answered. Here are a few things to watch for:

Full Strength?

As good of a career as Jeff Larentowicz has had, it’s really hard to imagine him in the starting lineup on March 5th against the New York Red Bulls if there are no injuries. The lineup that started against Chattanooga is likely not the club’s full strength lineup. I don’t think that’s a bold statement.

Obviously any starting lineup in preseason is one to watch, but now that the club have a full week of training under their belts after their opening match, Saturday’s lineup could very well be Tata’s first-choice lineup. Take note of who is named to the starting eleven, it could very well be your first look at a full strength lineup.

To Josef, or not to Josef?

If we do see a first-choice eleven, the big question is will we see Josef Martinez in it? The club’s third DP didn’t start last weekend, but came on after 20 minutes to replace Miguel Almiron. It remains to be seen where exactly his position will be for Atlanta. Will he be a pure striker, a supporting striker, or a winger? When he came on against Chattanooga he slotted in beneath Kenwyne Jones before taking his spot in the second half. Many people think he’ll eventually end up on the left flank, but with Yamil Asad’s great play in the opener it all seems to be up in the air. Keep an eye out for where Josef plays when he comes on the field be it as a starter or sub.

Note: Doug Roberson reports that Asad picked up a minor knock in training this week. That could make the decision a little easier.

Position Battles

As always in preseason there are fights for starting spots. Atlanta United are no different. One of the biggest battles currently is the right back spot. Tyrone Mears is the veteran, coming off winning MLS Cup with the Seattle Sounders. However, some believe that Mark Bloom has the potential to start too and his performance in the second half against CFC did nothing to disprove that theory. His combination play with Andrew Carleton on the right flank was eye-opening. Pay attention to how the two do on Saturday and who could get the leg up.

Another competition up for grabs in the goalkeeping spot. Alec Kann got the start in Chattanooga and did fine in the first half. One shaky moment in the early runnings so him dart out for a loose ball and sort of knock it away/fumble it away. Blame should probably be placed on the defensive line more than him on that. Kyle Reynish, who is on-trial with the club, played in the second half and really had little to do. Then you still have Alexander Tambakis who missed the match due to the flu. He could play a factor in the starting role if he gets healthy and shows the coaching staff something in the final three matches.

What are you looking forward to seeing? Let us know in the comments.