United set to start train­ing camp

New coach leads the team’s ef­fort to de­fend the MLS Cup.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - SPORTS - By Doug Rober­son drober­[email protected]

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 to­day, 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.

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. 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 was 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 goal- keeper 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 to­day 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 man- da­tory 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 Boer 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.

JA­SON GETZ / SPE­CIAL TO THE AJC

At­lanta United mid­fielder Miguel Alm­iron waves to fans as he and other play­ers ride a dou­ble decker bus dur­ing the vic­tory rally on Dec. 10 in At­lanta.

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