Atlanta United’s defense of its MLS Cup will begin in earnest this week.
New coach Frank de Boer, hired in December, will be introduced on Monday, which is also the same day that the players are scheduled to undergo physicals.
The team, featuring a new player or two, will take the field for the first time this season on Tuesday. The team will train at its center in Marietta before moving camp to Los Angeles for the first two weeks of February. Its first game will be Feb. 21 at Herediano in Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Here are four things to watch in Atlanta United’s training camp:
Will Miguel Almiron be in camp from start to finish? Almiron, who finished second to teammate Josef Martinez in last season’s MLS MVP voting, is reportedly the target of numerous clubs in England and Spain.
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Atlanta United President Darren Eales has repeatedly said or implied that it will take an offer of at least $30 million to acquire Almiron, who has scored 21 goals with 28 assists the past two seasons. So far, no team has broken out its ATM card. They have until the close of the transfer window at 11 p.m. Jan. 31, which is when it closes in England. It closes Feb. 2 in Spain.
Should Almiron not be purchased, the next window opens May 17-Aug. 9 in England and June 1-Aug. 31 in Spain.
The MLS transfer window opens again July 10-Aug. 8.
When will Pity Martinez join? Though the team has yet to confirm that the former River Plate star is joining the team, the player has done so numerous times on social media.
Martinez’s transfer price of $12 million alone will make him a Designated Players in MLS. The issue for Atlanta United is that it already has the maximum three DPs allowed by the league in Josef Martinez, who last year’s league MVP, Ezequiel Barco, whose impact wasn’t great as expected last season in his first year in the league, and Almiron.
Atlanta United has until March 1 for its roster to comply with league rules.
To make room for Pity Martinez, Atlanta United would have to sell or loan one of its other DPs during the transfer window.
Where will Brek Shea play? Martinez and Shea are the only two additions made by Atlanta United so far. Shea, 6-foot-3, just 28 years old and very fast, is intriguing because he has the skill and size to contribute, even if he doesn’t have a recent history of doing so in two years with Orlando and then Vancouver, which cut him loose following the 2018 season.
Originally an attack-minded midfielder, Shea was tried out at as a fullback for Orlando and Vancouver. It didn’t work very well.
To be fair to Shea, neither team were very good and had tenuous management situations. Shea has had at least four different managers since returning from England and Stoke City to MLS in 2015.
Shea isn’t the only new player. The team signed goalkeeper Brendan Moore and drafted Anderson Asiedu, a defensive midfielder from UCLA, and Amir Bashti, a midfielder from Stanford, in the first two rounds of last week’s SuperDraft. The team could add another player on Monday when it selects in the fourth and final round. Neither Asiedu nor Bashti will be in training camp in its first days because they are supposed to attend a mandatory rookie symposium held by the league.
It will be surprising if either Asiedu or Bashti earn significant minutes with the first team because the team is stacked at their respective positions. However, the number of games that the team must play this season in the league, Champions League and U.S. Open Cup may create opportunities.
What formation will de Boer use? Under Martino, Atlanta United used either a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 formation. The latter was used some in 2017 and 2018 before becoming the lockdown formation in last year’s playoffs.
De Boer uses a version of a 3-4-3 that combines a bit of the formations previously used Martino. Atlanta United has the personnel to use it, if that’s what de Beor goes with.
The three centerbacks can be pulled from a group that includes Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Franco Escobar, Miles Robinson, Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann.
The midfielders can be pulled from Larentowicz, Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel, McCann, Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, among others.
The forwards can be pulled from Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, Hector Villalba and Barco, among others.