2017 MLS SEASON PREVIEW
If history is anything to go by, Atlanta United will struggle in 2017. Thus is the life of an MLS expansion side.
Over the past 12 years, the league has seen 10 new clubs kick off. The first-season results: one trip to the playoffs — by the Seattle Sounders in 2009 — and nine autumns spent watching the postseason from home.
Yet there's reason to believe this Atlanta side will hit the ground running, with former Barcelona and Argentina manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino at the helm, an attack packed with South American talent, and some established veterans in the back. There's also reason to believe United will boast one of the league's most intense home-field advantages, considering the club already has sold a stunning 30,000 season tickets.
Nothing is certain until a ball is kicked, but this much is already clear: Atlanta has the makings of an MLS powerhouse.
Atlanta United's key offseason additions
Atlanta's entire roster, of course, is comprised of offseason signings, but certain acquisitions stand above the crowd.
The flanks have been bolstered by young Argentine wingers Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, while Venezuela international Josef Martinez (on loan from Torino) can be a goal-scoring option in a variety of roles. Trinidad and Tobago striker Kenwyne Jones provides a physical presence capable of occupying defenders up top.
Amid all of that talent, Paraguay international Miguel Almiron — signed from Argentine side Lanus — figures to be the one pulling the strings. The club added Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona from Serie A club Atalanta as a box-to-box midfielder to support that attack.
In defense, United traded for Columbus Crew stalwart Michael Parkhurst to anchor the unit alongside former River Plate and Estudiantes center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. The team also added a pair of established fullbacks, signing U.S. international Greg Garza on loan from Club Tijuana and acquiring MLS Cup winner Tyrone Mears from the Seattle Sounders.
Atlanta landed itself a top-notch goalkeeper as well, using the MLS allocation order to add U.S. national team shot-stopper Brad Guzan — though he won't arrive until he finishes the current Premier League campaign with Middlesbrough.
While these prospects may not start from day one, the club built for the future with homegrown signings Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin and draft picks Miles Robinson and Julian Gressel.
How will the Atlanta United starting lineup look in 2017?
Former Sporting Kansas City backup Alec Kann is poised to fill in between the posts until Guzan arrives midseason. The back line of Mears, Parkhurst, Pirez and Garza seems set, though the versatile Zach Loyd is an option at all four positions should he rally from the concussion issues that plagued him last season. And don't count out Robinson or on-loan Tottenham prospect Anton Walkes as young alternatives in central defense.
Carmona seems locked in as a two-way midfielder, with Chris McCann and Jeff Larentowicz options to start in a holding role. Villalba feels like a safe bet to patrol the right flank, but the rest of the attack is more fluid.
Almiron could start as a liberally defined left winger, with Martinez filling the role underneath Jones. Martinez also can play up top or wide, and Asad — who has seen preseason minutes on the flank and up top — is pushing for a starting spot. Although Carleton and Gressel are currently seen as depth options, they could contend for regular minutes sooner than later.
Full Atlanta United roster entering the 2017 season
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Alec Kann, Alex Kapp, Alexander Tambakis
Defenders: Mikey Ambrose, Mark Bloom, Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Zach Loyd, Tyrone Mears, Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes
Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Andrew Carleton, Carlos Carmona, Chris Goslin, Julian Gressel, Harrison Heath, Kevin Kratz, Jeff Larentowicz, Chris McCann, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
Forwards: Yamil Asad, Kenwyne Jones, Josef Martinez, Jeffrey Otoo, Jacob Peterson, Brandon Vazquez, Hector Villalba, Romario Williams
Atlanta United's national TV coverage schedule
Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
Minnesota United vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, March 12, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Atlanta United vs. Chicago Fire - Saturday, March 18, at 4 p.m. ET on UniMas
Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United - Friday, March 31, at 10 p.m. ET on FS1
Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United - Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1
New York City FC vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, May 7, at 4 p.m. ET on Univision
Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, May 14, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, May 28, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, June 3, at 5:30 p.m. ET on TSN
Chicago Fire vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, June 10, at 4 p.m. ET on UniMas
Orlando City vs. Atlanta United - Friday, July 21, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City - Sunday, July 30, at 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox
Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, Aug. 6, at 8 p.m. ET on FS1
Atlanta United vs. Minnesota United - Sunday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Atlanta United vs. LA Galaxy - Sunday, Aug. 19, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City - Satuday, Sept. 16, at 4 p.m. ET on Univision
Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC - Sunday, Oct. 22, at 4 p.m. ET on TSN