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Atlanta United vs. Charleston Battery, 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup: What to watch for

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The preseason finale is upon us.

Dave Williamson Photography

I don’t have a brother, but I’m sure if I did we’d fight a lot. You hear stories all the time of brothers getting into it with each other while they grow up in the same household. That must be what it’ll be like for some of the Atlanta United players are they take on the Charleston Battery in the third and final match of the 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup on Saturday night. Players like Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams, and Alexander Tambakis, who still have hopes of starting the season with the United first-team, spent time with the Battery on-loan last season.

Charleston and Atlanta are beginning their second season as affiliates. It will likely be a weird moment with Carleton, Williams, or Tambakis face-off against teammates they spent time with last season. The same can be said for Jeffrey Otoo, who is officially loaned to the Battery again this season, when he faces off against Atlanta.

United still have a chance to win the CCC. They’ll need Seattle to take at least a point from the earlier match against the Crew. If that happens then a win would see Atlanta take home their first ever piece of hardware. Despite the chance to make that bit of club history, Tata Martino confirmed after Wednesday’s match that he would play the players “who haven’t played as much up until now.” So, that leaves with only a few things to watch for in this match:

Who will start?

Doug Roberson reported on Thursday that Carlos Carmona, Anton Walkes, and Zach Loyd have returned to training, while Chris McCann and Kenwyne Jones are still out dealing with paperwork issues. As far as we know, every other player on the roster is fit and available. Considering Tata’s statement of playing players who haven’t gotten a lot of minutes yet, here’s our projected lineup:

It’s a pretty straightforward lineup chalked full of like-for-like replacements of reserve players. Only one player who needs minutes is left out, that’s Anton Walkes. With this likely being Zach Loyd’s first minutes of preseason, give him 30-45 minutes and then let Walkes take over.

Who will take advantage of their chance?

One player who could help themselves tremendously with a good showing on Saturday is Carlos Carmona. Many expected him to be a candidate to start in this team when acquired, but unfortunately he’s missed two of three preseason matches due to paperwork issues and has only played 25 minutes so far. The good news is, he’s coming from the Serie A where they were training for the last five months and he should be able to get up to fitness quicker than most. If he plays well, he could be inserted into Tata’s lineup against the Red Bulls.

Mark Bloom impressed in the first preseason match against Chattanooga when he came on and has been the recipient of calls from fans to possibly replace Tyrone Mears as the starting right back. While that scenario seems unlikely, at least to begin the season, this could be his big chance to prove he deserves more playing time. He should get a long runout in his proper position. It’s up to him to take advantage of it.

Then of course there’s the wonderkid himself, Andrew Carleton. If the prospect of him getting a start and playing 60-75, maybe even 90 minutes doesn’t excite you then you should probably reassess your fandom. He’s shown already this preseason that he belongs with the Atlanta United first-team. Now is his chance to prove he deserves more minutes as soon as next Sunday. If he has a good showing against the Battery, that could alleviate all doubt in Tata’s mind that he’s ready to make an impact off the bench if called on against the Red Bulls. Hopefully we see him from the start and get a long look at him.