Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said last week that he is sure of all but two positions in his team’s starting lineup for next week’s season-opening game at Honduran club Motagua in the Champions League.
Those two positions are likely left back, which for the fourth consecutive season is already thin because of injuries, and defensive midfielder, which has depth.
The team will play a friendly on Tuesday against Leones Negros in Guadalajara, Mexico. Which players start that game will likely be the same group that takes the field in Honduras.
Anton Walkes started at left wingback in Saturday’s 3-2 win against Birmingham, Ala. George Bello came on to start the second half but suffered a head injury. He was examined and released by an Alabama hospital. He will not travel with the club to Mexico. Edgar Castillo, another candidate to start, didn’t travel to Birmingham. He missed most of last week’s training sessions after sustaining a rib injury against Swedish club Elfsborg in a friendly in Florida 10 days ago. Jake Mulraney is also a candidate to start at left wingback. He is very fast and much stronger in attack than on defense. He came on as a second-half sub against Birmingham as a right wingback.
At defensive midfielder, Jeff Larentowicz started at Birmingham with Emerson Hyndman playing just ahead of him. It was Hyndman’s third consecutive start. Eric Remedi came on for Larentowicz to start the second half. Matheus Rossetto came on for Hyndman. Rossetto looked sharp in connecting defense to offense and scored the game-winning goal in the 90th minute.
De Boer said after Saturday’s game that each of the candidates brings something different. Larentowicz is a better tackler and defender. Remedi is good at defense, with his positioning and the ball. Hyndman is good with his positioning, with the ball and going forward. Rossetto is good on the ball and at attacking.
Atlanta United’s offense hasn’t looked fluid in the first halves of its past two games. While the team has created a few scoring chances, with one goal scored, there have been large spaces between the front three of Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, and Hyndman and Larentowicz. When Hyndman has gotten forward, he has connected well with his teammates.
The wingbacks have also gotten forward well in the past two games, but the quality of the crosses has been inconsistent, which isn’t a surprise because the players are mostly new and building chemistry with their teammates.
There are other reasons Atlanta United’s offense hasn’t looked as sharp in the first halves of the past two games as it did in scoring four goals against Philadelphia in its second game: Elfsborg pressed Atlanta United as aggressively as any team other than the Red Bulls. It was surprising because in its previous game against Nashville, Elfsborg mostly sat back. Seeing that level of energy may help Atlanta United in the Champions League
Atlanta United was just a poor touch or pass away from slicing open Birmingham several times in the first 45 minutes.
It would be surprising to see de Boer change out Hyndman for Rossetto in Mexico, but if he does it’s a tip as to what you will see in Honduras.
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