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Predicting Atlanta United’s starting XI against the Chicago Fire

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Will Heinze be more aggressive with his team selection in Atlanta’s first game of 2021 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

SOCCER: JUN 01 MLS - Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United are finally back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium tonight for their home opener in the 2021 MLS campaign. But it’s Gabriel Heinze’s fourth time fielding a team for a competitive match this season, so we have a bit of a sample as to what he’ll prefer. However, we also have some wrinkles, including Josef Martinez’s fitness improving and the addition of Alan Franco to the mix of defenders.

Here’s our prediction:

Notes:

  • Josef Martinez and Lisandro Lopez have alternated games starting thus far, and after playing just 15 minutes against Orlando, t makes sense to give Josef the start if for no other reason than continue to ramp up his minutes for fitness alone. Of course, in form he’s the clear best option anyway, and with fans returning tonight, it just makes a ton of sense.
  • Aside from the good form of Anton Walkes to start the season, there’s no reason not to finally introduce the high-profile and high-quality center back in Alan Franco into the starting XI. Down the road we may see all three of the top CBs (including Miles Robinson) in lineups, but considering that would require re-working midfield, it’s hard to see it happening anytime soon while the team is still ironing out the kinks of Heinze’s system. If Franco does indeed start, I’d expect to see him play on the right side where he’s played most of his career, but that’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • Ibarra coming in for Hyndman is a pure guess, as those players appear to also be rotating and fighting for minutes in the same spot.
  • Mulraney played okay against Orlando, but the biggest reason Heinze may want to keep him in the starting XI is for is directness and pace getting in behind Chicago’s back line.

But that’s just our thoughts on this beautiful gameday. What say you?