Atlanta United’s second season is almost here.
It feels like the wait has been much longer than it actually has, but the waiting ends Saturday afternoon when Atlanta United travels to Nashville to play USL side Nashville SC in their first ever match.
Atlanta returns one of the most explosive teams in MLS from a year ago could be even better in 2018 after some record-breaking moves in the offseason.
Nashville is getting their feet wet in USL but they are no slouch, bringing up exciting players from their PDL team, signing players from all levels of the game and bringing in a championship coach with a very Atlanta feel about him.
As far as The Five Stripes go, the line-ups and substitutions will be fascinating to see. Fans will more than likely see a starting lineup featuring big names in places we have all come to expect, perhaps minus a player or two. Weather will certainly be an issue with rain expected throughout the day, and a player recovering from injury (see: Tito Villalba) may see minimal time or sit out entirely.
While the starting lineup is pretty much set in many hearts and minds, this will be a good chance for players to audition for roles. Romario Williams and Brandon Vazquez could be fighting for the back-up striker role. Without Jacob Peterson in the midfield, Julian Gressel and Kevin Kratz could be fighting for a larger share of the minutes, while also fighting off rookies Jon Gallagher and Gordon Wild for attacking minutes. Atlanta could also see multiple keepers in the game as well, as Alec Kann and Mitch Hildebrandt push each other.
When it comes to formation, it is hard to predict how Atlanta will look, so Occam’s razor suggests we just assume it will look like last season until we see otherwise. Of course, player availability and subs could shake things up throughout the game. Remember that this is a preseason friendly, things may get weird at times, and that is OK. Speaking of things that are OK, there is probably a chance that at least one of the homegrown players get a chance to show what they can do. Fans will surely remember Andrew Carleton’s goal against Chattanooga last year, and will likely have something to cheer about again.
Another fun event from last year was the away kit reveal in the second half of the Chattanooga game. Will we see history repeat itself?
Nashville is a first-year team that has the pieces in place to make plenty of noise in USL. Led by former MLS Cup winner and Atlanta Silverbacks Coach Gary Smith.
Speaking of local flavor, Goalkeeper CJ Cochran is an Alpharetta product who attended Georgia State and spent the last two years with the Oklahoma City Energy. He will be battling for time with veteran Matt Pickens who was part of Gary Smith’s MLS Cup winning side in Colorado.
Matt LaGrassa spent last season at Reno 1868 and could be a playmaker going forward and working to control the midfield with his solid size and tackling. Meanwhile, Portuguese midfielder Martim Galvao led Nashville’s 2017 PDL squad with seven goals and could be dangerous either starting or off the bench.
Ropapa Mensah notched seven goals and two assists in 19 matches last year for Harrisburg City last season and is not old enough to drink. He could be a handful for a stout Atlanta defense.
Most fans know what to expect from Atlanta’s style of play and while Nashville should be very fun to watch with a good mix of veteran presence and young excitement, it is fair to wonder how long it will take them to mesh. Both teams should be fun, but will they both be polished enough to make their chances count on a possibly messy pitch?