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Taking Stock: Preseason ups and downs

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One last look at Atlanta United’s form before the season begins in earnest.

Welcome to Taking Stock, a new column here at DSS examining the fluctuating fortunes of every aspect of Atlanta United - players, coaches, formations and what have you. This will be a periodic check-in, probably every month or so.

Well, ladies and gents, the interminable off-season (short as it was) is nearly over. In a few short hours, the Five Stripes will be back in action in Costa Rica. Before we truly put the preseason behind us, though, it is important to take into account all that has transpired in these few weeks.

Trending Up

Ezequiel Barco

After off-field controversy led to a diminished role for the young forward in the back half of the season and the championship run as a supersub, no one was quite sure what to expect come preseason. The general consensus is that Barco is playing the best soccer he ever has in Atlanta. Whether it was brought on by offseason conditioning or the prospect of a clean slate under new manager Frank de Boer is hard to say, but the return to form is an exciting prospect on a team already loaded with talent.

Miles Robinson

After a 2018 season which saw highs and lows but little grey area for the center back as a depth piece in Tata Martino’s system, Robinson’s place in the new order was unclear. But due to the unfortunate injury to Franco Escobar in training, he played a lot in preseason. His increased confidence on and off the ball was apparent, and though he is not the flashiest player, his work defensively may indicate a breakout season not unlike the one fellow 2017 draftee Julian Gressel had in his rookie season.

The 3-4-3

This was de Boer’s preferred formation throughout the preseason, and though it had not seen use in Atlanta prior to his arrival, it was not a surprise to those who know the storied history of the 3-4-3 in Dutch soccer. The change is an evolution from the previous 3-5-2 and 4-3-2-1 iterations, combining the high press of the latter with the possession-mindedness of the former. The shape is primarily attacking, but also lends itself to the fluidity required for total football.

In Flux

Darlington Nagbe

Following Dirty South Soccer’s earlier report that Nagbe was looking to force a trade to Columbus to play under his former coach Caleb Porter by his late arrival to and early dismissal from California, it was confirmed in an unexpected media appearance that the midfielder will stay in Atlanta for the near future.

The question still remaining in the saga of these reports is whether the club will sell Nagbe come the transfer window, and only time will tell.

He will be traveling with the team to Costa Rica on Thursday, but his lack of training time with the first team means he will most likely start on the bench.

Trending Down

The preseason hype train

Early in the preseason, it looked like no one could stop Atlanta United, with back-to-back dominant wins over the Sounders and the Xolos C team. Sure, the preseason doesn’t matter, but it was fun to watch. The final two games, both draws with L.A. teams, seem to be a better blueprint for the regular season.

Frank de Boer’s comfort with media

Maybe this will change as he gains experience, but the few appearances he has made in the preseason were more than a little awkward.

What are you most looking forward to this season? Sound off in the comments.