With Atlanta United kicking off their 2018 preseason on Monday, it’s time to review the current crop of players and where they may stand heading into the month of preparations.
Here’s a rough depth chart for Atlanta United as of January 20.
* stars denote a secondary position for the player listed.
Brad Guzan will be the starter. That much is certain. What’s more interesting is who will emerge as the backup for Mr. Clean Sheet if an injury surfaces or if the USMNT comes calling. Alec Kann held his own in the starting lineup before Guzan arrived in Atlanta, and that built trust with Tata Martino could put him over Mitch Hildebrandt. However, the FC Cincinnati legend and penalty-saving extraordinaire will look to prove himself this coming month. Regardless of who wins this battle, Atlanta United 2 will have a tremendous keeper to start with.
Prediction: First team: Brad Guzan, Alec Kann. Reserves: Mitch Hildebrandt
Depth at left back appears to be relatively straightforward. Greg Garza is the clear starter, and Chris McCann proved more than capable when Garza went down with an injury late in the season. Interest lies at the third spot and whether or not Mikey Ambrose or Jose Hernandez earn themselves a spot on the first team. Tyler Pasher and George Bello look set to begin their Atlanta United careers with the reserves.
Prediction: First team: Greg Garza, Chris McCann, Mikey Ambrose. Reserves: Jose Hernandez, Tyler Pasher, George Bello
Although Franco Escobar spent some time at center back in the past, he will likely play at right back barring a formation switch by Martino. That leaves Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst as the center back pairing. Although Jeff Larentowicz appeared at CB on a couple occasions last season, he didn’t play well out of his natural deep-lying midfield spot.
Gbenga Arokoyo is an interesting player. The 25-year-old Nigerian made 25 SuperLig appearances with Gaziantepspor from 2014 to 2016. However, he was only capped once with the Portland Timbers during the last three months of the 2016 season before tearing his achilles and missing the entire 2017 season. It’s a bit of a mystery what his future is with the club.
Miles Robinson spent most of last season on loan to the Charleston Battery. He’s a likely starter on the reserve team.
Prediction: First team: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Franco Escobar, Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz. Reserves: Gbenga Arokoyo, Miles Robinson
Well, this will be short and sweet. As mentioned before, Escobar is the first-choice right back. Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu made one appearance at RB in 2017 during a U.S. Open Cup match against the Battery. And……..yeah. That’s about it. This is certainly a position the front office will address soon.
Prediction: First team: Franco Escobar. Reserves: Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
This season, Larentowicz will take a backseat to Darlington Nagbe and Carlos Carmona in the midfield. Gressel did play more centrally at times last season, but it wasn’t his ideal spot. A potential storyline is whether or not Kevin Kratz is pushed out of the first team with the arrival of Nagbe. A very deep midfied could see the German spend most of next season as a veteran among the reserve team. If ATL UTD 2 is his destiny, he’ll be looked on to mentor Chris Goslin, Wheeler-Omiunu and Oliver Shannon.
Prediction: First team: Darlington Nagbe, Carlos Carmona, Jeff Larentowicz, Julian Gressel. Reserves: Kevin Kratz, Chris Goslin, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Oliver Shannon
This position is filled with players that are versatile. Almiron obviously starts here, but newly acquired Ezequiel Barco, MLS Rookie of the Year Gressel and young prodigy Andrew Carleton can fill the void when necessary. Still, don’t expect Carleton’s number to be called on too often.
Prediction: First team: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Julian Gressel. Reserves: Andrew Carleton
The aforementioned Barco adds to an already lethal Atlanta attack. When he’s subbed off, look for Almiron or Nagbe to fill his spot on the wing. Unless Martino converts Gressel, Brandon Vazquez, Jacob Peterson or Lagos Kunga from the right wing to the left, the only other options are Carleton and Pasher, who are both expected to contribute far more often to the reserve team.
Prediction: First team: Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Darlington Nagbe. Reserves: Andrew Carleton, Tyler Pasher
Having seven guys that can play as right wingers seems odd, especially if you don’t invert some of them to the left as well eventually. Tito Villaba starts, with Barco, Gressel, Brandon Vazquez and Jacob Peterson ready to relieve him. I’m interested to see if Vazquez and/or Peterson spend any time with the reserve teams. As stated before, it’s a crowded midfield. Carleton and Lagos Kunga round out the right wing.
Prediction: First team: Tito Villalba, Ezequiel Barco, Julian Gressel, Brandon Vazquez. Reserves: Jacob Peterson, Andrew Carleton, Lagos Kunga
Josef Martinez looks to stay healthy this time around, and if he does, the MLS Golden Boot seems a shoo-in. In case he does get injured, Villalba will move up top just like he did last season. Romario Williams had an astounding 2017 with the Charleston Battery and Jamaican national team, scoring a collective 17 goals in 28 appearances. The question remains, is Williams the kind of striker that fits a Martino system? If not, he would make an excellent addition to the reserve team. Vazquez played as a #9 to start his career, but Martino molded him into a serviceable right winger. Don’t expect to see him move away from that developing part of his game too often.
In complete honesty, I don’t know much about Jon Gallagher and Gordon Wild. They’re listed as “forwards”(that could mean like four different things) on their respective school websites, so I’m just running with the whole striker thing. Regardless, not much should be expected from either player with the first team this upcoming season, although many said that in regards to Gressel’s last campaign as well. Patrick Okonkwo is a dynamic striker that has as much to gain on the reserve team as anyone else.
Prediction: First team: Josf Martinez, Tito Villalba, Romario Williams, Brandon Vazquez. Reserves: Jon Gallagher, Gordon Wild, Patrick Okonkwo