Oh, how I’ve missed this. Atlanta United returns to the pitch for their first match of 2018 against Nashville SC, one of USL’s newest expansion teams. The Five Stripes made a few notable signings during the offseason, and it’s likely we see those players debut for the red and black in front of a sellout crowd at First Tennessee Park on Saturday.
Last year in Chattanooga, we witnessed Tata Martino play everyone that was available to him off the bench, allowing players to prove themselves and get acquainted with certain systems. We have no reason to believe he won’t do the same this time around. Taking that into account, here are the two projected XI’s for the first and second halves.* In case you’re new here...
*I’m probably wrong.
First Half Starting XI
Formation: 4-3-3. A lot was made of Martino stating that a 3-5-2 was “definitely something we’ll work on more often” at the first training of the season. However, I’m still not convinced Atlanta would be better off with that rather than a 4-3-3. Perhaps it’ll be used more often in specific scenarios, but I’ll believe in it when we start to consistently see it.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan. So far, so good.
Left Back: Greg Garza. Hey look, two for two.
Center Back #1: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. This predicion thing is easy.
Center Back #2: Michael Parkhurst. One would assume he’ll be the captain this season as well.
Right Back: Franco Escobar. The acquisition of Escobar went largely overlooked considering the amount of money spent on other transfers. There also isn’t a lot of tape of him at Newell’s for us to dissect. I’m most intrigued to see the role he plays throughout the season.
Central Midfielder #1: Jeff Larentowicz. Until Atlanta brings in the Carlos Carmona replacement that is supposedly on his way, Larentowicz will fill in for the time being.
Central Midfielder #2: Darlington Nagbe. It felt really weird typing that.
Attacking Midfielder: Miguel Almiron. Let’s embrace Almiron while we can. Hug him and never let him go.
Left Winger: Ezequiel Barco. Sweet baby-faced assassin. Pray for the Nashville right back.
Right Winger: Julian Gressel. With Tito Villalba dealing with an injury, we should see the defending MLS Rookie of the Year fill in on the right. That’s not a bad backup plan.
Striker: Josef Martinez. Atlanta United’s rockstar is back. Don’t be surprised to see Martinez show no mercy to the Nashville backline.
To recap, here’s my projected starting lineup against Nashville.
Now, here’s what I think the team will look like at the start of the second half.
Kit: White and orange. Might the club hand out a few of the new alternate kits to supporters who are at the match, similar to last year in Chattanooga? Keep an eye out.
Goalkeeper: Alec Kann. He’ll get the nod because of Martino’s familiarity with him, but expect Mitch Hildebrandt to see some minutes as well.
Left Back: Chris McCann. This is a tough one. We could easily see Mikey Ambrose or Jose Hernandez here instead.
Center Back #1: Miles Robinson. This is an interesting season coming up for Robinson. He didn’t live up to the expectations placed on him as the second overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, especially considering what Gressel was able to do. How well he does this preseason could be the difference between first team minutes and a season in USL.
Center Back #2: ???. Yup. Unless Martino decides to bring along Jack Metcalf who’s designated as an ATL UTD 2 player, there are no other available center backs who hadn’t already played in the first half. Expect one of those players to get a few extra minutes. Also, can we please sign another center back?
Right Back: Sal Zizzo. Atlanta’s latest signing won’t have to wait too long to represent his new team.
Central Midfielder #1: Kevin Kratz. Minutes will be tough to come by in a crowded midfield for Kratz, but perhaps a good preseason helps his case.
Central Midfielder #2: Chris Goslin. There’s some hesitation to start Goslin simply because ATL UTD 2’s training camp starts on Monday and Goslin is set to feature heavily for that team during their season. Still, this would be a nice preview for the youngster against a USL team he’ll play against again down the road.
Attacking Midfielder: Andrew Carleton. Martino mentioned during the first preseason training that Carleton could feature for both the first and second team throughout the season. The gaffer will be keeping an eye on the young talent.
Left Winger: Lagos Kunga. While the Homegrown Player’s destiny for 2018 is likely in Gwinnett, expect Kunga to get rewarded with minutes for his hard work in training camp.
Right Winger: Brandon Vazquez. Again, another talented, young forward that will have to fight for playing time on the first team.
Striker: Romario Williams. I am so excited to see him suit up for Atlanta. He proved his worth and goalscoring prowess last season with the Charleston Battery. One of the biggest preseason storylines to look out for is how well can Williams fit in a Tata Martino system.
To recap, here’s my projected lineup for the start of the second half.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.