The offseason in MLS is short. Shorter than people may realize. At the same time, it can feel like an eternity from the trophy presentation to the kickoff in the season opener.
That being said, the light at the end of the tunnel is visible as Atlanta United has returned to training camp this week. It has been a busy and record-breaking offseason for The Five Stripes and the fruits of that labor will be seen sooner rather than later. Let’s take a look at questions that may need answering.
How does the defensive midfield shape up?
Atlanta paid a lot of money for Darlington Nagbe and he is going to start for them pending injury. The question for United is how they plan to play the holding midfielder role. Carlos Carmona is – as of this writing – staying in Atlanta (though that will probably be reportedly changed at least three times before you read this, maybe more) and veteran Jeff Larentowicz is under contract for 2018.
Larentowicz was a rock in No. 6 role last year and would surely do the job well again, but Carlos Carmona also served time in the role early in the season before Atlanta United really found its groove. Carmona certainly can fit the role of ‘destroyer’ that Larentowicz filled and he’s not afraid of picking up a few cards here and there along the way.
If I’m making a prediction I’m expecting Carmona to get more reps as the holding midfielder but Larentowicz sees plenty of time at the #6 as well as potentially center back. Speaking of which…
Does Atlanta have another move up its sleeve?
Now that the telenovela that was #BarcoWatch has concluded, everything should be done and settled right? Well, maybe not quite. Doug Roberson of the AJC has mentioned that Atlanta could be adding another name to the locker room. The question becomes: where does this potential player fit? While a replacement for Carlos Carmona could be expected, it appears the team expects him to stay in Atlanta. One of the areas you might see Atlanta address is either center back depth or right back depth. While Jeff Larentowicz can drop back at times to provide cover at center back, we saw Atlanta get burned without Leandro Gonzalez Pirez available and it would not be at all surprising to see them grab someone to help handle the physicality of some of their more frequent matchups during the season.
How much of the kids do we see?
So far, we have a rough outline of an answer where Manager Tata Martino expects Chris Goslin to spend most if not all of his time in Gwinnett. As far as Andrew Carleton goes, that door was left ajar for some minutes with the senior team while spending plenty of time with ATLUTD2. The rest of the homegrowns will surely spend all of their seasons in USL. If you are looking for a young player to possibly see minutes with the first team, keep an eye former Clemson Tiger Oliver Shannon. Shannon is a destroyer who could see minutes in that #6 role should the need arise and not unlike Julian Gressel, he is a bit older coming into the league and may prove ready for the odd spell with Atlanta United.
How will the International Slots shake out?
We got one answer from this today when Tito Villalba got a green card, and Atlanta is reportedly working on more. They did wonders last year getting numerous green cards that kept the international slot limit from becoming an issue. Atlanta has until the beginning of March to get their house in order and they will surely be burning the midnight oil to get everything ready. While all three draft picks would count as internationals they will most likely spend the season in Gwinnett and even if someone does come up for, say the U.S. Open Cup, the club will already have to juggle the tighter restrictions on roster construction in that tournament. A green card name to keep an eye on maybe Julian Gressel but then again Tito wasn’t exactly the player everyone expected to get removed from the international list so there is no telling what the crack staff on Franklin Road has up their sleeve.
Fun with formations?
Atlanta played a pretty consistent style last year: 4-2-3-1 to start with that morphed into The Rohirrim charging down Pelennor Fields when in the attack.
Tata Martino has already spoken about playing with three at the back during training and there’s always a chance we could see Atlanta get a bit funky with the formation, especially in the preseason. That being said, Atlanta’s style will be the same and going three-at-the-back morphing to five-at-the-back is not a foreign concept to Atlanta United fans from the first season.
No matter what, Atlanta has a lot of fun weapons to play with and Martino will surely have multiple ideas on how to get every involved and plenty of space to play with.