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Predicting Atlanta United’s starting XI for 2021 MLS season opener at Orlando City

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Taking a look at the side Gabriel Heinze could select in the Five Stripes’ MLS opener.

SOCCER: APR 13 CONCACAF Champions League - LD Alajuelense at Atlanta United Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United’s 2021 season has already gotten underway with a two-legged victory over Alajuelense in the Concacaf Champions League, but the scene shifts to MLS play for the first time this year as they pay a visit to Orlando City at Exploria Stadium. And the script flipped in a big way last year between the two rivals: Orlando defeated the Five Stripes 3-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 29—its first win in the series—before a 4-1 romp at Exploria on Oct. 28. Sandwiched between those two matches were a 1-1 draw in Orlando in September and a goalless result on Oct. 7 in Atlanta.

Here’s what I think the starting XI will look like on Saturday:

  • ST: Josef Martinez
  • FW: Ezequiel Barco
  • FW: Marcelino Moreno
  • MF: Emerson Hyndman
  • MF: Franco Ibarra
  • MF: Santiago Sosa
  • LWB: George Bello
  • CB: Anton Walkes
  • CB: Miles Robinson
  • RB: Brooks Lennon
  • Brad Guzan is back in goal. Fortunately, trusty backup Rocco Rios Novo will be on the bench, but hopefully nothing goes awry with the No. 1 GK (knock on wood). Rios Novo was signed to a short-term agreement on Friday as the team would have been forced to field 1 goalkeeper otherwise; this doesn’t count toward his allotment in CCL since it’s a separate competition.
  • Ronald Hernandez was shown traveling with the team on Atlanta United’s social channels on Friday. I still think we see Brooks Lennon in the XI and potentially a runout of Hernandez later on depending on how the match progresses.
  • Gabriel Heinze has leaned on a midfield triangle over his first 2 matches in charge, and that will carry on with the trio of Emerson Hyndman, Franco Ibarra and Santiago Sosa. Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno should continue to have a good deal of positional freedom in the final third.
  • New DP Alan Franco still isn’t ready to play as his visa issue continues to be sorted, so it’s Anton Walkes again pairing with Miles Robinson in the centerback slots.

What are your thoughts? Chime in below in the comments.