Way-too-early Atlanta United starting 11 prediction for Sporting KC

Credit: Atlanta United

Credit: Atlanta United

Atlanta United will open its MLS season Feb. 27 against Sporting KC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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Based upon the lineup choices made by manager Gonzalo Pineda in exhibition games and the team’s numerous injuries, the starting lineup for that important first game seems mostly clear.

Let’s first eliminate some of the candidates because of injuries or suspension.

Definitely unavailable is centerback Alan Franco because of the suspension earned in last season’s finale, striker Erik Lopez, who is with Banfield, and winger Jurgen Damm, who is unwanted.

Likely out because they have missed most of training camp are fullback Brooks Lennon, midfielder Marcelino Moreno, midfielder Santiago Sosa and midfielder/winger Jake Mulraney.

Possibly out are midfielder Emerson Hyndman, who has rejoined the team but probably still needs to improve his fitness, and Franco Ibarra, who picked up an injury last week but walked off the field. Pineda and the team haven’t been clear about the nature of the injuries or the timeline for returns, other than to say they are day to day.

Should any of them start or play in Sunday’s final friendly at Birmingham, then the pool of potential starters grows deeper.

But here is my predicted starting 11 for the team’s 2022 debut:

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan. This was easy. I assume he will also be the captain.

Centerbacks Miles Robinson and George Campbell. The duo had some nervy moments in last week’s 3-0 loss at Chivas, but it also was the first time they played together this preseason. It also was Robinson’s first friendly with the team because he spent most of the first weeks of training camp with the U.S. men’s national team. Campbell has shown a willingness to take the ball and dribble forward, which can create havoc in a defense because someone has to pick him up. He scored in a friendly earlier this season and caused Chivas a big headache by doing that last week.

Fullbacks Ronald Hernandez and Andrew Gutman. If Lennon plays against Birmingham, I think he will start against Sporting KC. If Hernandez starts, he will get the nod. Hernandez, like most of his teammates, didn’t impress against Chivas. Look for him to improve against Birmingham but don’t read too much into it. The Legion are just starting their season. Hernandez said last week that he wants to make it clear that he is a starting-caliber player. Gutman has looked solid in the preseason, showing an ability to defend and then get upfield and put in a good cross.

Midfielders Ozzie Alonso, Ibarra and Matheus Rossetto. If you don’t subscribe to my podcast, here’s the link to hear my thoughts on the issue when these three players compose the midfield.

I’ll be curious to see if Pineda plays Thiago Almada as the attacking midfielder, removing Ibarra and shifting Rossetto to do a double-pivot with Alonso. Doing so would add a needed dose of creativity to the midfield.

Wingers Almada and Luiz Araujo. If Almada isn’t playing as an attacking midfielder, he will be on the left wing, which is where he started and performed well against Chivas. Araujo is a known commodity. He has looked very good at times during the preseason, and he has also given away the ball a few too many times with poor, low-percentage passes. But that’s what the preseason is for, right? If Almada is moved inside, look for Tyler Wolff, who has looked good this preseason with two goals, to start on the left.

Striker Josef Martinez. He didn’t look sharp against Chivas, which was his first action with the team this preseason. He had spent most of the first few weeks with Venezuela for its World Cup qualifying games. His frustration boiled over with a red card in the final minutes. He had two good scoring chances in the game.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1

March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN

April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN

April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN

May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX

May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2

June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Aug. 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1

Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas