Finally! It’s match week, ladies and gentlemen. After an eventful but loooong offseason, Atlanta United finally hit the field to kick around some balls in angst this weekend as they head to Nashville to kick off their four-game preseason schedule. With the club’s roster still rounding into shape, there are many questions to be answered this preseason.
While Tata Martino’s starting lineup is pretty easy to imagine with the pieces in place, there are still some players looking to make things difficult for him. As with every preseason, there are several players who can help themselves tremendously with a good showing in these games. We’ve picked five players with the most to gain from a good preseason. Here goes:
The wait is over. We’re finally going to see what Romario Williams can offer to Atlanta United. It seemed like one of the most consistent questions brought up last season was whether or not Williams would be called up from the Charleston Battery. With 15 goals to his name in the USL last season and Josef Martinez missing a considerable chunk of the year, many wondered if we’d see the Jamaican international with the Five Stripes.
That never came to pass, likely due to a stipulation in Atlanta’s trade with the Montreal Impact that would allow them to keep their second round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2018 if he didn’t appear with the first team. That obstacle has now been removed and Romario should have every chance to prove he’s worthy of MLS playing time.
With the departure of Kenwyne Jones, Williams is the only true out-and-out striker (who’s not a rookie) behind Josef Martinez. While there are several attackers capable of playing the position, there aren’t any true No. 9’s to back-up Josef. Williams should get plenty of chances to prove he’s capable of taking on the responsibility and while he stands little chance of getting a starting spot, he could see himself playing big minutes off the bench.
It was a quiet season for the 2017 No. 2 overall MLS SuperDraft pick. One U.S. Open cup appearance is the only action he saw for Atlanta United. Six appearances and a goal on loan at the Charleston Battery makes up his pro resume so far.
Anton Walkes’ loan ending leaves Atlanta thin at the center back position. After Jeff Larentowicz, there really isn’t much to speak of on the depth chart. Robinson stepping up and proving he can contribute first team minutes across the back line would be ideal.
Now that the club has their own USL team we could see a situation where Robinson features for both the first team and reserve team throughout the year. A strong preseason could lead to important MLS minutes for the 20-year-old in 2018.
I don’t think we need much context here. At every level he’s played at Carleton has impressed. His one start in the U.S. Open Cup last season was enough to make every fan drool over his talent and potential. With international duty hopefully limited this season, it’s time for the kid to get a real chance and Tata Martino is crazy enough to give it to him. Let the Year of Carleton begin.
All the talk surrounding Atlanta United this offseason is how amazing a Martinez-Barco-Almiron-Villalba-Nagbe attack could be. There sits the reigning Rookie of the Year just chilling, biding his time to once again prove he’s a fantastic player. Perhaps that’s the way it needs to be. Some players thrive when they are doubted and have that chip on their shoulder. With everyone counting Gressel out of the starting lineup, don’t be surprised if he continues to produce at an extremely high level and make the starting decisions impossible for Tata.
Time and time again last season Gressel pulled off some fantastic things in the Five Stripes’ attack. From scoring great goals to setting them up, if the predictions are true and he’s relegated to a reserve role, you couldn’t ask for a better bench option. However, if one of the attackers falter and Gressel has a stand out preseason, don’t be surprised to see him sneak into the lineup and prove everyone wrong once again.
Who the heck is Jose Hernandez? That’s what I hope to find out this preseason. We’ve mentioned Atlanta’s lack of defensive depth. What role is Hernandez meant to play? Can he be a utility guy across the back line? He’s obviously depth for the injury prone Greg Garza, but what about when the incumbent left back is healthy? Is Hernandez USL-bound?
We should get some answers in preseason as we get our first look at the former Venezuelan U-20 full back. There’s a reason Atlanta United swooped him up in the offseason. I’m excited to learn why.
That’s our list. Who did we miss and why?