Atlanta United was busy preparing for the team’s opening match of the 2018 MLS season Thursday. So busy in fact that training ran long by close to an hour as manager Tata Martino tinkered with various lineups during a tactical session at the team’s training facility in Marietta.
It’s the first time since the team returned from Charleston that Martino has talked to reporters, and with major events like an injury to Ezequiel Barco having happened in the meantime, there was a lot to discuss.
“It’s a shame [for Barco] because he’s been working hard in training ever since he rejoined us after missing a few days in the preseason,” Martino said through a translator about the Argentine teenager’s mysterious injury. “We just have to have patience and try to fill the needs of the team the best we can. We can’t pinpoint a moment in the training when it happened because he was able to finish the training [session] on that day. It’s something that had been bothering him a little bit, but nothing to the magnitude that we thought would provoke a serious injury.”
With Barco now out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks according to the team, the fan base is buzzing with chatter about how to replace the dynamic Argentine midfielder. Andrew Carleton is one name that has been at the fore of the conversations in the last 36 hours, not least due to his sparkling performances in preseason. Martino said following the last preseason game, a match in which Carleton shined, that the Powder Springs native had played himself “closer to the first team than with [ATL UTD 2].” Martino confirmed that sentiment Thursday by announcing that Carleton will be one of the 19 players traveling to Houston (18 players are included in the match day squad), but warned reporters that he is still young.
“I think about his age just to remind you guys how young he is and not to rush him into the team, but for this game he is among the guys who are going to travel,” Martino said. “We have an interesting roster, and we have young guys on the team — Andrew Carleton, Brandon Vazquez and also Romario Williams who just came up from a second division team — so we have high expectations for all of them and it’s up to them [to make the match day squad].”
As to how Atlanta United would line up with Barco unavailable, the manager was coy and didn’t give anything away tactically. The team trained Thursday with a variety of lineups running with the first team.
Martino elaborated a bit more on another topic of conversation among Atlanta supporters in recent weeks, which is if the team would sign a player to fill the role of departed Chilean midfielder Carlos Carmona. Martino said he’s open to the possibility of bringing in another player despite the season having already started.
“First, we have to be sure than any replacement we look to bring in would be someone who would contribute and help the team. So if we find that player, then we would make every effort we could to bring them in,” Martino said. “And if we find the right player, it’d be important to get him in this window as opposed to in the summer.”
Atlanta United kicks off its season Saturday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m. EST.