After a two-week hiatus, Atlanta United begin their longest road trip of the season against the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders. Josef Martinez’s injury while playing for Venezuela likely omits him from Friday’s lineup, but what about Miguel Almiron, Carlos Carmona and Kenwyne Jones? Will their call-ups affect the starting XI? Here is the definite, surefire lineup for March 31st.*
*I’m probably wrong.**
**I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve gotten the lineup right the past two matches. Let’s keep this hot streak going.
Formation: Just because Atlanta may have a couple notable omissions doesn’t mean they need to make radical changes. Keep the players comfortable in a familiar system. Tata Martino will stick with a 4-2-3-1.
Goalkeeper: Alec Kann. Coming off his first clean sheet of the season, Kann should be full of confidence.
Left Back: Greg Garza. He’s arguably been the best left back in MLS to start the season, with two consecutive MLS Team of the Week honors under his belt.
Center Back #1: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. This guy alone completed more passes than the Chicago Fire did two weeks ago. That’s impressive even if Chicago was down a man.
Center Back #2: Michael Parkhurst. Oh Captain, my Captain.
Right Back: Tyrone Mears. He’ll want to put on a good performance against his former team.
Defensive Midfielder #1: Jeff Larentowicz. I normally have Julian Gressel starting in this spot, but you’ll understand why I think that’s going to change in just a bit. Larentowicz started against Minnesota United and has made an appearance in all three matches to start the season. He seems to have earned the trust of Martino.
Defensive Midfielder #2: Carlos Carmona. He didn’t play for Chile last Thursday and I don’t expect him to play tonight against Venezuela. Carmona should be well rested for Friday.
He’ll probably end up being one of the most underappreciated players we have. Carmona isn’t going to show up on the stat sheet too often, but he’s a glue guy that’s done really well as a true holding mid.
Left Midfielder: Jacob Peterson. Again, I normally have Yamil Asad on the left, but that will change for this match. Peterson has come on for Hector Villalba the past two matches and managed a goal against Minnesota United. Although Martino seems to prefer Peterson on the right, he’s naturally left-footed and spent time as a left mid at Sporting Kansas City. It should be a small transition for him.
Also, don’t be surprised to finally see Andrew Carleton on the bench as the backup winger.
Attacking Midfielder: Julian Gressel. I don’t think Miguel Almiron will be able to start due to his international duties, playing all 90 minutes last Thursday and potentially doing it again tonight against Brazil. Atlanta United does not have a lot of depth at CAM, but Gressel spent the early part of the preseason as Almiron’s backup at the position.
Plus, Gressel has essentially played as a hybrid attacking midfielder all season. Martino instructed him to join in the attack when given the chance from the holding mid spot. Now, Gressel just has to stay farther upfield.
He could certainly continue to impress by showcasing his versatility on Friday.
Right Midfielder: Hector Villalba. Even though it was only the third match of the season, Tito must have felt relieved after scoring his first MLS goal. On Friday, Atlanta will need him to contribute more than any other match to this point.
Striker: Yamil Asad. Josef Martinez will be out with an injury he picked up while playing for Venezuela. Not only that, but Kenwyne Jones played close to the entire match for Trinidad & Tobago last Friday, with a good possibility the Soca Warriors’ captain does something similar tonight against Mexico. I can’t imagine he’ll be ready for Friday.
The two backup strikers, Bryan Rochez and Brandon Vazquez, have not seen a minute of playing time this season. it’s hard to imagine they’ll be asked to start.
Asad saw time at striker against the Charleston Battery at last month’s Carolina Challenge Cup and did quite well. Now perhaps that was just experimental on Martino’s part, but it certainly worked as Asad found the back of the net with a diving header in the 6th minute.
For the first time, Atlanta United supporters will see Martino implement a False 9 striker on Friday.
To recap, here’s my projected starting XI against the Chicago Fire.
I’m putting my correctly predicted lineup streak on the line in a big way with four changes from the previous prediction. Let’s see what happens on Friday.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.