Atlanta United wraps up its preseason schedule today with its final friendly against the LA Galaxy around 3 p.m. ET. Thursday, the team travels back home before a long weekend, and then the season begins in earnest next week. Having followed the preseason developments from afar the last couple of weeks, here are four things we learned.
Prepare for life without Darlington Nagbe
The biggest news of the preseason wasn’t the performance of any single player. Rather, it was the lack thereof. Darlington Nagbe did not participate in any of the first team’s scrimmages, instead seeing his only competitive action with the reserves against Cal State Fullerton, a game in which he was completely absent. As Dirty South Soccer reported late last week, Nagbe wants a move away from Atlanta. While it’s too early to say he will definitely be wearing a different shirt next season, it’s time to mentally prepare yourselves for such a situation. Frank de Boer has shown a couple of different looks without Nagbe in the lineup, playing both Jeff Larentowicz and rookie Anderson Asiedu in the central midfield spot alongside Eric Remedi. Once Franco Escobar returns to full fitness, de Boer could potentially field Julian Gressel in said central midfield role as well. Time will tell, but like the situation was with Carlos Carmona last season, it will be very difficult for the team to bring in a like-for-like replacement for Nagbe until the summer.
Pity Martinez is as good (or better) than we could have hoped
I mean, yeah, he was the South American Player of the Year, so we knew he was going to be good. But did we really know how silly he’d make defenders look? How effortlessly he’d be banging in free kicks and nutmegging defenders? (Yes, of course you did.) But I’ll hold my hand up and say I thought it might take him, oh I don’t know, a few weeks before he got more acclimated to a new country and new teammates. Instead, he immediately looks like an MVP favorite. Kewl.
Will Miles Robinson make The Leap™?
I will say this: The biggest disappointment from Tata & Atlanta so far (and there've been few) is the failure to develop Miles Robinson.https://t.co/nygLB3qSRZ— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) February 18, 2018
Lo and behold, Tata Martino is finally gone and THIS COULD FINALLY BE MILES ROBINSON’S YEAR YALL!
But seriously, Frank de Boer has slotted Robinson into his back line in the absence of Nagbe (shuffling Larentowicz, the human jigsaw puzzle piece around) and he has reportedly had a very strong camp. The tall, physical center back would give Atlanta’s back line some needed athleticism. He’d also give the Five Stripes a boost on set pieces at both ends of the pitch. But most of all, Robinson’s potential emergence this year would be very important for the club as Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz ride off into the sunset and become best friends in retirement.
We’re going to see a different Ezequiel Barco this year
Ezequiel Barco looks like a revitalized player this preseason. Why? Maybe he know he has something to prove after a disappointing first season. Maybe he feels more freedom in the attack after the departure of Miguel Almiron. Maybe Frank de Boer has given him a new lease on life. Whatever it is, it’s working. And it isn’t all down to Barco running at defenders and creating goals (though that’s certainly part of it). He looks more adept defensively and willing to track back and do some of the dirty work that Almiron was so known for.