Atlanta United may be forced to hold open tryouts in June.
That’s a joke.
Between potential call-ups to national teams for two international tournaments, the Gold Cup and Copa America, Atlanta United’s depth will be tested as it never has since it began play in MLS in 2017.
On Monday, three of its players were named the U.S. provisional 40-man roster for the Gold Cup, and another was named to Jamaica's roster for the tournament, which will be held June 15-July 7.
That’s just one of the tournaments that could affect Atlanta United.
Copa America, a tournament featuring national teams from South America, will take place June 14-July 7.
Among the Atlanta United players who likely will be called up their national teams are Josef Martinez (Venezuela) and Hector Villalba (Paraguay). Pity Martinez (Argentina) and Ezequiel Barco did not receive a call up.
At the same time, Atlanta United has four MLS games from June 26-July 7. Each are against Eastern Conference opponents: at Toronto on June 26, vs. Montreal on June 29 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, at Chicago on July 3 and vs. Red Bulls on July 7.
None of those matches would an automatic three points with a full-strength squad.
So Atlanta United could be — not will be — without eight players while it is trying to improve its chances of being one of the seven teams in the East to qualify for the playoffs, and also push LAFC for the Supporters’ Shield.
Possibly losing four players, goalkeeper Brad Guzan, centerback Miles Robinson, midfielder Darlington Nagbe to the U.S. and striker Romario Williams to Jamaica, could be overcome if all of the players make the respective final 23-man rosters for the Gold Cup.
Alec Kann is experienced in goal, with 19 starts in the past two-plus seasons. Flo Pogba can step in for Robinson. He did so at Vancouver and played well. A combination of players are in the pool to replace Nagbe. Williams has barely played the past two-plus seasons. While skilled, it’s hard to say what he brings to the team because he has just 21 appearances (no starts) in the past four seasons.
Of the eight players, I think Guzan, Nagbe, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba will make the final rosters.
Guzan, 34, is by far the most experienced goalkeeper in the U.S. pool, with 60 appearances. Though he is older than the others in the group, goalkeepers age well. He is fit, is better with his feet than his competitors in the group and has the international tournament experience that Ethan Horvath, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson (from Atlanta), LAFC’s Tyler Miller and Columbus’ Zack Steffen are still developing.
There is no player in the U.S. pool as good in tight spaces in the central midfield as Darlington Nagbe. That’s crucial in manager Gregg Berhalter’s system.
While Robinson arguably has been the best central defender in MLS this season in helping Atlanta United post five consecutive shutouts – a streak that was broken in Sunday’s 1-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls – the depth at centerback is such that I’ll be surprised if he makes the final roster. Much would depend upon if Berhalter is going to use the Gold Cup as a roster-building exercise for upcoming World Cup qualifiers. If he selects a younger roster with 2022 in mind, then Robinson should certainly be on the Gold Cup team.
With Jamaica, a lack of playing time has never stopped Williams from being selected, so it seems probable that he will make the final cut.
Turning to the South American teams, Josef Martinez is a lock for Venezuela. Villalba should be a lock for Paraguay.
Pity Martinez needs to make Argentina’s Copa America roster, but his results with Atlanta United are such that I’m just not sure he will make its team.
What can Atlanta United do to overcome the loss of these players, particularly at striker if Josef Martinez, Villalba and Williams are gone?
If Pity Martinez isn’t selected for Copa America, he can play striker. It’s not his best position, but it’s one he could slot into. Brandon Vazquez, if healthy, also is a possibility. Julian Gressel has succeeded at whatever position he has played. He’s not super quick, but could think his way through the position. Two wild cards are Jon Gallagher and Gordon Wild. Both of whom were drafted in 2018 as strikers out of Notre Dame and Maryland, respectively. Both have since been converted to fullbacks. Neither has played for Atlanta United in a league game. But in a pinch, it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility.
De Boer could play with a false nine, which is formation loaded with midfielders and not a true striker. Depending upon the situation, one of the midfielders steps into the attacker role. It takes a lot of practice to use effectively.