As Atlanta United’s preseason schedule gets underway next week in Nashville, the roster being assembled for the club’s second season is beginning to make one exciting thing very apparent: Young and talented attackers like Brandon Vazquez and Andrew Carleton will have plenty of chances to earn minutes in 2018.
Earlier this week, the Five Stripes said goodbye to Jacob Peterson as the veteran forward was waived. This was more than a minor transaction for the club. This was a signal of intent. With depth in the attacking end of the field being an issue last season, it’s becoming clear that Tata Martino and the technical staff are putting their faith into the young guns and are set to give them plenty of opportunities to prove themselves.
Vazquez, 19, had several chances in 2017 to make a name for himself with the first-team and had a handful of impressive performances before injuries in the second half of the season limited his minutes. The tall attacker was mainly used as winger by Martino when brought into games but is naturally a striker.
When looking at the striker depth of the team behind Josef Martinez, it’s a blurry picture. After Martinez, there really isn’t a clear No. 2 out-and-out striker option on the depth chart. Guys like Tito Villalba and Julian Gressel can fill in up top, but you would prefer they play their preferred positions. Romario Williams is an option to consider as a striker. Even he could be considered “young” at 23 years of age and coming off an impressive scoring season in the USL. Between Williams and Vazquez, both should get ample opportunity during preseason to prove that they are ready to grab the back-up striker role this season.
With the departure of Peterson, who was used as a late-game substitute whenever he was healthy, that leaves the door open for valuable minutes in crucial spots. While Vazquez will certainly be given chances in those situations, there’s also an even younger and arguably more exciting talent ready to make an impact.
Andrew Carleton, the 17-year-old Powder Springs phenom, is waiting in the wings to prove he’s worthy of the massive hype surrounding him. Carleton’s 2017 season was constantly interrupted by international duty. Every time it felt like he was about to break into the rotation for important minutes, he’d be called to play for the U.S. U-17’s. That obstacle will be gone this season and it should lead to the training wheels coming off.
While it’s way too early to expect Carleton to earn a starting spot in Martino’s lineup, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to be an impact sub off the bench this season. He’ll likely be going back and forth between the first-team and ATL UTD 2 to maximize his minutes. However, when Carleton is with the first-team, he should get those late-game chances to impress that Peterson’s absence now presents.
Depth was a big issue for Atlanta in its inaugural season, especially in the attacking end. Carleton and Vazquez will be relied on this season to fill that void. Can they live up to their potential and the lofty expectations placed on them? It starts in the preseason where they’ll receive plenty of minutes to prove they are ready to take on that responsibility.