After a very wet 3-1 win against Nashville SC in Atlanta United’s opening preseason match, 2018 preparations continue this Saturday against the very club that cut the Five Stripes’ inaugural season short. Last Saturday, Tata Martino handed minutes to 22 players. Could we expect something similar in Charleston? Also, will we see a returning Michael Parkhurst or Tito Villalba? A debuting Franco Escobar, perhaps? I don’t know. This prediction thing is a shot in the dark at this point.
The predictions aren’t off to a great start in 2018. However, Google has a lot of good inspirational movie and television quotes to propel us to greater heights. Here is this week’s source of inspiration.
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” -Dillon Panthers, Friday Night Lights
Alright, I’m pumped. Let’s do this.*
*I’m probably wrong.
Formation: 4-3-3. Martino began the Nashville match with the formation we’re most accustomed to, and then started the second half with an experimental 3-5-2. This will be something to keep an eye out for throughout the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan. I had the urge to start Mitch Hildebrandt here so Martino can build on a potential keeper battle between the former FC Cincinnati man and Alec Kann, but that can be decided later on in preseason. Let’s get Guzan reps early and often.
Left Back: Greg Garza. Last preseason, Martino opted to play a consistent backline through the first three matches. Although they’re much more familiar with one another’s playing style and habits now than they were last season, it stands as an important refresher for all players involved.
Center Back #1: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. During the last media day of the 2017 season, Pirez mentioned that his goal for the 2018 campaign was to foul less. He’s off to a rocky start after last Saturday, and will continue to work on that in the couple weeks he has left before the regular season begins.
Center Back #2: Michael Parkhurst. We didn’t see the captain take the pitch against Nashville due to “precautionary” reasons. Now’s the time for the 34-year-old to regain his form.
Right Back: Franco Escobar. He was on the same boat as Parkhurst last week. Let’s hope to see the young Argentine make his Atlanta debut against the Crew.
Central Midfielder #1: Darlington Nagbe. He was arguably Atlanta’s best player against Nashville. The USMNT regular should fit in just fine.
Central Midfielder #2: Jeff Larentowicz. If this lineup prediction seems a little familiar, it’s because it is. Another potential parallel we saw from last preseason that could also apply this time around is Martino taking his preferred starting XI and giving them three matches together before opting for a more experimental lineup during the last preseason fixture. That makes a lot of sense, and as much as a lot of people would like to see what the bench players are capable of, I’m not so sure Martino will wander away from his favored core for at least the first half.
Attacking Midfielder: Miguel Almiron. He was never able to get it going against Nashville. However, we’ve rarely seen the Paraguayan with two bad performances in a row.
Left Winger: Ezequiel Barco. He was really good in his brief debut, creating space for himself and finding teammates with quality passes. Let’s keep the hype train rolling.
Right Winger: Julian Gressel. This is going to be wrong once Villalba is healthy again. I know it is. However, the fact we haven’t heard about the Argentine this week or seen photos of him training makes me think he’s still not quite ready to return to action. Also, Gressel’s first touch was certainly in preseason form against Nashville. He’ll look to sure things up while in the Holy City.
Striker: Josef Martinez. If I had a single rose for every goal he scored, I could walk forever in my garden. However, Martinez would probably mow that garden down.
To recap, here’s my projected lineup against the Columbus Crew.
It’s a bit bold to try the same lineup two weeks in a row, especially in preseason, but I have literally nothing to lose.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.