Atlanta United’s first friendly of 2018 was an event on many levels. Nashville got to see their first professional game in almost 20 years and Atlanta got to see their new signings in action for the first time.
Manager Tata Martino turned in a lineup that will be expected during the regular season, minus Villalba, Franco Escobar and Michael Parkhurst (who I believe gave his armband to Captain Nemo during the deluge.)
That opened up opportunities for a few players to make their cases for playing time during the season and it is time to take a look at how some of these players did.
- Darlington Nagbe
What a debut for the U.S. International. Nagbe showed the skills that have Atlanta fans so excited. His ball control, and calming impact on the midfield were on full display, even on a horrible pitch. Nagbe is a departure from Carlos Carmona in style, and while that still may give some people pause with defensive concerns, Nagbe showed the skillset that could see him become a deadlier version of what Carmona was at the end of the season: a heavy influence on the game that doesn’t always end up with the goals or assists to show for it. Granted Nagbe did bag himself an assist after marching Nashville’s defense back into the shallows of Reelfoot Lake.
- Chris Goslin
The appeal of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was two-fold: The price was appealing, and it had the words DON’T PANIC written in large, friendly letters on the back. Chris Goslin might has well have had those letters on his back during his limited time on the pitch. The homegrown prospect picked up where he left off in the U-17 World Cup and displayed incredible touch, and skill on the ball, even delivering some lethal through balls on an absurdly stubborn surface. Bonus points for trucking a Nashville player at the age of 17 and showing some strength at an age where it would be forgivable to lose the strength battle. There is still a lot of work to do for Goslin, and he will surely get the minutes in Gwinnett in 2018, but if Nashville’s sample was a sign of things to come then he will surely be loosening the hinges on the door sooner rather than later.
- Oliver Shannon
Atlanta United fans have spent the last few weeks fretting over who would play the 6 behind Darlington Nagbe. Whether it is a distrust in Jeff Larentowicz (why?) or even just a concern that he might hit the cliff as he ages (more understandable) the desire for a defensive midfielder is there. There is no promise that Oliver Shannon is ‘that guy’ but he certainly made a case for himself in limited minutes Saturday. Shannon is not unlike Julian Gressel was last year: a senior who is a bit older as a rookie, and collected a ton of minutes at the college level after spending his youth in an academy of his home country. That’s not to say that Shannon will come on and be a huge surprise while snatching the Rookie of the Year honors like Gressel, but he certainly used this small window to pay back the front office for drafting him. Shannon has a good chance to see starting minutes at the USL level, but more performances like this could see him pushing the Tata Martino’s hand and earning time for the first time. And there are worse roles in life than shadowing Jeff Larentowicz.
- Chris McCann
McCann came into 2018 on the heels of some impressive showings at left back at the end of 2017, when the position was basically a MASH unit by the end. With the changes in the lineup for the Nashville friendly, McCann had a shot to show off as a defensive midfielder after some shaky moments at the position in 2017. He certainly started off strong and calm, but whether it was the conditions, the pitch, responsibility change or simply getting back into a playing rhythm, his performance started to taper off. Should Oliver Shannon and Chris Goslin get more time and build on their strong cameos, McCann could be challenged for time as the season goes along. Make no mistake, McCann as depth is not a bad thing in a vacuum, but for what he is making in salary, it is fair to want more from him.
- Julian Gressel
Gressel seemed to struggle a bit in possession and had a few moments that looked like his early-midseason struggles in 2017. It wasn’t a disaster by any means, and Gressel showed his awareness and skill by laying off a ball that Darlington Nagbe put off the post. That said, the midfield bench could be interesting in 2018 without Jacob Peterson. Gressel will surely share time with Kevin Kratz, and even though Jacob Peterson is gone Jon Gallagher is here and Brandon Vazquez has made a habit of terrorizing people on the right wing when called upon (Gallagher and Brandon Vazquez will both be ones to watch to see if they stick with Atlanta or go to Gwinnett to get more minutes.) One game doesn’t make or break things but it would be great to see Gressel bounce back in the Carolina Challenge Cup, especially if he can do it on the right wing where he thrived last season.
- Sal Zizzo
Sal Zizzo was a late addition to the squad and was immediately thrown into the fire at right back and the results were less than ideal. The lack of chemistry with the squad and pitch right out of Dagobah did not help, but fans were certainly hoping for more. It is not the end of the world for Zizzo and he will be expected to be a depth piece most likely, but should Atlanta’s 2017 habit of picking up cards in the back continue he will need to have a better showing than he did Saturday.
That said, all of these players will be able to improve on their showings in the Carolina Challenge Cup where the city and stadium certainly are not in a place that is prone…to…flooding…