Atlanta United’s preseason has finally come to an end and we can finally start looking forward to kicking off the regular season. But before we do that, let’s look back one more time at the last preseason game, a 0-0 draw against the Charleston Battery, and look at some important takeaways from what was otherwise a dull affair overall.
Andrew Carleton is the most talented player outside the regular starting XI
Carleton’s ability on the ball speaks for itself. I could eloquently describe the flicks, tricks, splitting passes, etc., but what’s the point? If you watched the game, you know what he can do with a ball at his feet. If you didn’t see the game, here are a couple clips:
There was more than this. He nearly scored on a header he had no business even challenging the keeper with and he was constantly getting into the box and getting shots away if he had the chance. But what player outside the starting XI has this kind of skill? None. Some of those players might have other advantages over Carleton, like Gressel and Vazquez with their size or Kratz with his experience. But none of them can ball out like Carleton.
And Tata Martino knows this. He spoke to reporters after the match. One reporter (I couldn’t tell who it was that asked the question, apologies) asked if Carleton would play with Atlanta United 2 this season. Martino responded through a translator by admitting that while playing in USL “would be the logical thing,” he added that “with the way he’s played in preseason and the way he played tonight, he’s put himself closer to the first team than with the USL team.”
Read that quote again. Not that he’s closer to the first team than he was before. It’s specifically that he’s more likely to play with the first team than the USL team. And it makes sense, because quite frankly, we know what Carleton can do at the USL level. We’ve seen him excel against Charleston Battery three times in the last year in both friendly and competitive competition. Would it really, truly impress anyone for him to continue tearing apart USL teams? No. He needs a further challenge, and I think Tata Martino will start to give him those chances. Carleton will undoubtedly play with A2 to keep his fitness levels up and his game sharp. But he ready.
Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu is actually decent
If Carleton’s performance was talking point No. 1 coming out of Saturday’s match, Wheeler-Omiunu’s performance is 1-A. This is interesting because before this game, AWO (as I will refer to him) is pretty much an enigma. I mean, we know he can sing. We know he’s smarter than you. We know he’d win the Bachelorette. But is he actually good at soccer?
As it turns out, it appears so. He got the start as the most defensive of the three central midfielders Saturday night and he put in an excellent display. Tata Martino singled him out, along with Carleton, as the two players who had the best performances on the night. AWO did an excellent job in recovery situations, using his speed and mobility to cover in spaces that were left vacated by fullbacks or midfielders who had pushed up. In possession, he was solid (though not often under too much pressure) and passed the ball well both to recycle possession with short passes as well as spraying the ball to wide areas. It’s as much as you could’ve asked for of a young player like him in a position that still isn’t quite solved.
Maybe the No. 6 role has been temporarily patched until summer due to strength in numbers
As we’ve said here all along, the only reason the No. 6 position is an issue for Atlanta is down to the risk of relying on the health and energy of Jeff Larentowicz every week. He’s one of the oldest players in the league. But with the emergence of AWO and even Chris Goslin and Oliver Shannon this preseason, maybe the Five Stripes have enough options in defensive midfield to be able to get by until the summer, when the market will be flush with the types of players they need. The problem with trying to make an acquisition now is that everyone is in season. It’s extremely hard, if not downright impossible, to pry away good players if they are playing regularly for their current clubs. Atlanta might just have enough passable options to get by until there’s a better time for them to reinforce properly without rushing the issue.