Atlanta United will have five players likely participate in tonight’s MLS All-Star Game against Juventus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: striker Josef Martinez, midfielders Miguel Almiron and Ezequiel Barco, centerback Michael Parkhurst and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Here are a few matchups that I’m looking forward to watching (assuming they happen):
Josef Martinez vs. Giorgio Chiellini: Martinez and Chiellini have tangled before when Martinez was at Torino, but that was different because Martinez is scoring at a rate few have ever done. He has 24 goals this season, nine more than the next best scorer, and those chasing him have already conceded the Golden Boot with one-third of the season remaining. Though, 5-feet, 6-inches tall, he leads MLS with eight headed goals. He is adept at playing off the shoulder off defenders, finding space as soon as they turn to look for the ball. His first goal last week at Montreal is a perfect example.
Chiellini, 33, is considered one of the world’s best defenders. He’s tall, fast and reads the game really well. He has more than 350 appearances for Juventus and 96 for Italy. He has faced down some of the best strikers in the world.
Miguel Almiron vs. Sami Khedira/Emre Can: Almiron wants to play in Europe. He seems good enough, using his pace, vision and tenacity to put together back-to-back MVP campaigns in MLS.
Khedira, 31, isn’t as fast as Almiron, but reads the game well and is extremely smart. On defense, he is a good tackler and on offense he likes to make late runs when defenders aren’t paying attention. Like Khedira, Can is German and joined Juventus on a free transfer. Can was a dependable, if not flashy, player for Liverpool. Like Khedira, he is skilled enough to play any number of midfield positions. His best at Liverpool was as a defensive midfielder, where his physical skills could be used best.
Michael Parkhurst and Brad Guzan vs. Federico Bernardeschi: Parkhurst is one of the more underappreciated players in MLS. The 34-year-old rarely puts a foot wrong and reads the game well, so he rarely needs to make last-ditch tackles or lunges. A typical boxscore for him will show zero tackles and a lot of clearances. It’s a shame that the U.S. didn’t call him into camp for the failed World Cup run because he could have taught everyone on the team a few things about positioning.
Guzan, 33, remains one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. He’s a pro’s pro, always first out on the training pitch and works hard during each session. He distributes well out of the back and makes good decisions on free kicks.
Bernardeschi, 24, is considered a future star for Italy. He is a winger, so he won’t be matched up directly on Parkhurst, but he likes to cut inside from the right and onto his left foot so there’s a possibility that Parkhurst, hurt ankle and all (assuming he plays), will need to slide over and go one-on-one.