Things to watch at Atlanta United’s training camp

Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco #8 dribbles during the round one playoff match against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Sunday November 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

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Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco #8 dribbles during the round one playoff match against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Sunday November 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Atlanta United will open its sixth training camp Sunday, with the players reporting ahead of actually participating in training sessions Tuesday.

It will be the first camp under manager Gonzalo Pineda, who was hired midway through last season. Pineda led the team to the playoffs, which ended with a loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

The core of that team has returned. In fact, this squad may be the deepest Atlanta United has had and may be the deepest in MLS.

But to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, there is work that must start next week ahead of the 34-game schedule.

Here are things to watch:

Josef Martinez’s explosiveness. When the season ended in November, Vice President Carlos Bocanegra described this as an important offseason for Martinez to continue developing strength and confidence in his surgically repaired right knee. He made 24 appearances and scored 12 goals last season, and produced a few moments of brilliance, but wasn’t the same menacing presence as he was from 2017-19, when he became arguably the greatest striker in MLS history.

It should be clear early by looking at his off-the-ball runs, his leaping ability and his energy pressing, if he’s indeed closer to being his old self.

How much are Ezequiel Barco and George Bello involved? The two players reportedly are of interest to clubs in Europe. The interest in Bello, a left-footed fullback, is relatively new. The interest in Barco, a right-footed midfielder, is assumed because there has been only one new report about him in months, an inquiry from a club in Brazil about a loan-to-buy, despite him coming off his best season (seven goals and eight assists in 25 appearances) among four with the club.

The Barco situation is complicated by the fact that the club has acquired the rights to Thiago Almada, who is very similar to Barco in terms of skill and playing style. Because of MLS rules, the club would need to sell Barco to add Almada to the roster. Bocanegra said Tuesday he had no updates about either player.

Bello’s situation is intriguing because, if he plays well for the team this season, he may earn another call-up to the U.S. men’s national team for the World Cup, which starts in November. Good performances there would see his transfer value skyrocket. But the club also has Andrew Gutman, a player it likes very much, ready should it receive an offer for Bello this month, or this summer, that it can’t refuse.

If Pineda isn’t using the players much in the first team it could signal a move is imminent.

What formation takes up most of the team’s training? Bocanegra and Pineda have hinted that the team may switch its base formation from three centerbacks, two wingbacks, four midfielders and a striker. The only logical choice would be two centerbacks, two fullbacks, five midfielders and a striker. Doing so would get more of the team’s offensive firepower on the field.

There’s a possibility of four midfielders and two strikers, but Martinez has succeeded as a single striker. It wouldn’t make sense to change that now.

How does Emerson Hyndman look? Hyndman appeared in seven games last season before suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during training. Based upon his and the team’s posts on social media, his recovery is on time. He is doing work with the ball and running. Bocanegra said it may be a week to weeks before Hyndman participates in full-team sessions, but that he is on schedule with his recovery.

Hyndman may be the type of pass-and-move central midfielder that the team doesn’t have right now. Marcelino Moreno and Barco both are dribblers.

Of course, because there is a glut of central midfielders, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the team didn’t attempt to trade or loan one. There are only so minutes to divide between Moreno, Hyndman, Matheus Rossetto and Tyler Wolff.

Where is Moreno playing? Moreno is best as a central midfielder, where there is a glut of players. He is coming off his most productive season. He ranked second on the team in goals (nine) and assists (five) and led in shots (79), shots on goal (30) and key passes (63), which was 11th-most in the league.

But he needs to show that he can play within Pineda’s preferred style.

Moreno hasn’t succeeded as a winger. Fourteen of his 17 career goals and 13 of his 21 assists at Lanus and Atlanta United have come when he’s a central midfielder or attacking midfielder.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

August 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

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

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