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Taking stock of Atlanta United’s defense heading into Week 1

Which defenders are on the rise, and whose stock is down as Atlanta concludes preseason play?

The regular season is finally here, and we’ve all had 4 preseason games from which to digest and analyze performances. In Part 1, we will look at the defenders to see whose stock is rising or falling as we head into Atlanta United’s Inaugural MLS league match on March 5.

Stock on decline

Tyrone Mears, RB – Mears is an aging veteran, and it showed this preseason. When he’s fresh, he’s serviceable. His touch isn’t great, but it’s not terrible. He dwells a little too long on the ball and takes a few too many touches, but he’s functional. The problem with Mears (right now) is that he tires quickly (he’s been looking dead on his feet by 60’ mark). When he’s that exhausted, he struggles to defend quick wingers. Hopefully he can improve his fitness levels as the season progresses.

Zach Lloyd, CB/RB/LB – Trending down solely to the fact that he did not appear in any preseason game due to injury. As a solid defender who can play any position in the back line, I’m confident that he will play many valuable minutes for Atlanta this season.

Holding Steady

Alec Kann – Alec Kann is the only goalkeeper being evaluated, since he received almost all of the game time in preseason. I’m giving him a neutral grade, as he excelled in some areas and was exposed in others. He was a terrific pure shot-stopper for Atlanta this preseason, but struggled (sometimes laughably so) to execute Tata Martino’s preferred style to play short passes out of the back.

Greg Garza, LB – I’m begrudgingly keeping Garza as a neutral for now. I (maybe unfairly) expected him to be better than he’s shown with the ball at his feet, which is an important quality for fullbacks in Martino’s system. But he’s been solid defensively, and he’s taking up good positions on the pitch.

Anton Walkes, CB – Walkes hasn’t been tested too much this preseason largely due to a lack of playing against quality competition, but he hasn’t done much wrong, either. His passing looks crisp, which is always a positive when assessing defenders in this system.

Mikey Ambrose, LB – Doesn’t the name “Mikey Ambrose” just sound like a little dude who scurries up and down the left flank? I digress. Ambrose nabbed an assist to Yamil Asad in the final preseason game against Charleston, but he was also bested on quite a few occasions and didn’t look very comfortable defending. I’m confident he will be serviceable in the role he plays for us, which is to rotate occasionally to give Garza rest.

Stock on the rise

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, CB – The Argentine Center Back has proven himself so far, specializing as a defender who will be aggressive in challenges and is physically powerful. He’s a perfect partner for Michael Parkhurst

Michael Parkhurst, CB – Michael Parkhurst hasn’t had any jaw-dropping moments in preseason, but that’s the beauty of his game – you don’t notice him. Parkhurst passed the ball well and proved a great complement for Pirez as the more conservative, covering defender of the two. Does this pairing have more to prove? Absolutely. But between the two, they possess a wide variety of important defensive attributes.

Mark Bloom, RB – You’d have to think at this point that Mark Bloom is inching closer and closer toward Tyrone Mears’s starting spot. While he may not have the pedigree that Mears does, the Georgia native and former Silverback has at least shown that he has the endurance to satisfy the physical requirements of playing fullback in Martino’s system. His technical attributes are still a question mark (as we haven’t seen enough of him), but I feel like things are trending in the right direction for Bloom after some solid preseason performances.

Miles Robinson, CB – Robinson looks like he belongs here. I mean that quite literally. He’s physically powerful and has the highest leap of anyone on the team. His style is more reminiscent of Pirez than it is of Parkhurst as the “stopper” on the back line. I didn’t expect too much of Robinson as a newly minted professional, but he’s looking the part.