March 5th is almost here. No, seriously. Soon we’ll be at Bobby Dodd Stadium, greeting our team in the backdrop of Atlanta for the very first time. Now I don’t know about you guys, but I expect the most surreal moment to be our starting XI walking onto the pitch. Those eleven players will cement themselves in the club’s history forever.
Now, who will those eleven players be exactly? Here is the definite, surefire starting XI for opening day.*
*I’m probably wrong.
First things first, Tata Martino’s consistent implementation of the 4-2-3-1 throughout the preseason should indicate his preferred tactic, at least against the New York Red Bulls. Therefore, that’s the formation this starting XI will be based around.
Goalkeeper: Alec Kann. He started every preseason match except against the Battery, which actually helps his cause considering almost everyone who started that match will likely be reserve players during the season. Questions have risen regarding Kann’s footwork, but some of the saves he had in the preseason were excellent. That gives him the edge, but don’t be surprised if NYRB press high to take Kann out of his comfort level.
Depth: Kyle Reynish, Alexander Tambakis
Left Back: Greg Garza. This is an easy choice, along with the rest of the backline. The U.S. international faces no major threat to his starting role.
Depth: Mikey Ambrose
Center Back #1: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. With Zach Loyd currently out with an injury, there’s no veteran that could even attempt to compete for Pirez’s spot at the moment. Young defenders like Miles Robinson and Anton Walkes have shown promise throughout the preseason, but not enough to dethrone Pirez, who was outstanding in the exhibition matches.
Depth: Anton Walkes
Injured: Zach Loyd
Center Back #2: Michael Parkhurst. Well, he’s already been named the captain. He has to start.
Depth: Miles Robinson
Right Back: Tyrone Mears. If I had to choose one position on the backline that could become hotly contested at some point in the season, it’s at right back. Mears looked shaky at times throughout the preseason, and his backup Mark Bloom played well when given a chance. However, this won’t be enough to overtake Mears in regards to opening day.
Depth: Mark Bloom, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
Defensive Midfielder #1: Jeff Larentowicz. Now, this is where things get very interesting. There are seven players on this squad that can play as a holding mid. Out of those seven, four made a very strong case to start on opening day.
An important question that needs to be asked is where does Martino see Julian Gressel performing the best for Atlanta, as a holding or attacking midfielder? Gressel saw time at both positions throughout the preseason and thrived in both. Martino has mentioned before that he would like one of his defensive mids to help on the attack when given the opportunity. Although he’s a rookie, Gressel’s skillset might be the most equipped out of all the CDM’s to acquiesce to Martino’s request.
However, considering Gressel saw most of his playing time come as an attacking mid during the preseason, I’ll consider that his role.
In my opinion, that leaves Carlos Carmona, Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann as the other likeliest options for the holding midfield pair. Larentowicz has been very steady up to this point and played in every preseason match. I think that consistency earns him one of the starting spots.
Depth: Harrison Heath, Kevin Kratz
Defensive Midfielder #2: Carlos Carmona. McCann wasn’t able to play the last two matches of the Carolina Challenge Cup due getting paperwork sorted. He apparently left for Amsterdam on Tuesday and is traveling back. This could present a lack of matchday fitness for the Irishman. I’ll give Carmona the nod on opening day.
Depth: Chris McCann, Chris Goslin
Left Midfielder: Yamil Asad. Here’s a player that took full advantage of the preseason to stake his claim for a starting role. When Atlanta United signed Josef Martinez, most assumed he would play as the left mid/winger. However, Martino doesn’t seem to feel the same way considering Martinez didn’t see any time on the flanks in any of the four exhibition matches. Therefore, I think this spot should go to Asad.
Depth: Jacob Peterson
Attacking Midfielder: Miguel Almiron. I’m not going to waste your time or mine explaining why Almiron will be a starter.
Depth: Julian Gressel
Right Midfielder: Hector Villalba. Sorry, Andrew Carleton. Your time will come eventually, but for now, you’ll make for an exciting super sub.
Depth: Andrew Carleton
Striker: Josef Martinez. This is another tough decision. Martinez is starting no matter what. I can’t imagine that’s even up for debate. It’s what will be done with Kenwyne Jones that becomes a topic of conversation.
In the two preseason matches that Jones took part in, his holdup play was great. It was his finishing that let him down in key moments. As stated before, I can’t imagine Martino comes out with a two-striker system or Martinez playing on the left. Also, with Jones not playing in the last two exhibition matches, perhaps his fitness isn’t where it needs to be just yet.
With all that taken into consideration, expect Jones to come off the bench against NYRB.
Depth: Kenwyne Jones, Romario Williams, Brandon Vazquez
To recap, here’s my projected starting XI against the New York Red Bulls.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.