Atlanta United: Five players to watch against Charleston

Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said Wednesday that he likely will start those players who haven’t received as much playing time as the starters in Saturday’s final preseason game.

The Five Stripes will play Charleston at MUSC Health Stadium. The game will start at 7:30 p.m.

Using mostly the players who will start the season-opening game at Houston, Atlanta United was beaten 3-1 by Columbus in the tournament’s first game and, because of Ezequiel Barco’s first goal, earned a deserved 1-1 draw with Minnesota United on Wednesday.

Martino has used almost every field player (non-goalie) in the team’s preseason, which started with a 3-1 win at Nashville.

Of the group, only Michael Parkhurst has yet to appear. Last year’s captain and starting centerback has been held out for precautionary reasons, but Martino said Wednesday he likely will play. Parkhurst did participate in a scrimmage earlier this week during the team’s practices in Charleston and was dressed out for Wednesday’s game.

Other starters who have logged just a few minutes but who are expected to start Saturday are right midfielder Hector Villalba and right fullback Franco Escobar. Both came on for a few minutes in the second half of Wednesday’s draw. Villalba started 32 games last season, scoring 13 goals with 11 assists, while Escobar was signed in the offseason from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.

“I was a little anxious, a little nervous to be out with the team for the first time,” Escobar said. “I went out there accelerated, going really fast but really excited to be out there with the team.”

Here are five more players that I’m interested to watch Saturday:

1. Romario Williams. Playing in Charleston is old hat to Williams, who spent the previous two seasons with the Battery, including last year on a season-long loan from Atlanta United.

He scored 15 goals last season for the USL team. He is expected to back up Josef Martinez this season. Williams has logged a few minutes in the preseason, scoring a goal by being in the right place at the right time to pounce on a poor clearance against Nashville.

Williams said he has worked on improving his hold-up play during the preseason.

“I’m pretty pleased with my efforts,” he said. “I’ve received positive feedback from the coaching staff, as well. I just have to carry on building on this.”

2. Andrew Carleton. Carleton, the team’s first Homegrown Player showed his potential as a pro last year in the limited minutes he has received last season in the regular season, U.S. Open Cup and U.S. youth national teams.

That good work has continued during this preseason when the 17-year-old hit the bar with a shot in the final minutes against Columbus.

Martino said on the first day of training camp that he expects Carleton to split time with the first team and Atlanta United 2 this season.

Like Barco, Carleton has a good eye for the clever pass, is a good dribbler and has a willingness to try things that other players won’t. 

3. Chris Goslin. The team’s second Homegrown signing is supposed to spend most of the season with Atlanta United 2, according to what Martino said on the first day of training camp.

However, a few days later, the team sold defensive midfielder Carlos Carmona, which opened a rather large hole in the starting lineup or bench.

It’s expected to be filled by either Jeff Larentowicz or Chris McCann, two veterans.

But Goslin, 17, and draft pick Oliver Shannon have looked good in training and in the minutes they received in preseason games.

4. Jon Gallagher. The team’s first pick hasn’t gotten many chances to show his abilities in the preseason games.

In training, he has a cannon with either his right or left foot and willingness to take coaching.

5. Miles Robinson. The first draft pick in Atlanta United’s history, Robinson didn’t log a minute in MLS last season, but had six appearances with five starts for Charleston.

He is athletic and a good tackler. He just needs minutes to unlock his potential.

Atlanta United isn’t as deep as last season at center back. If Robinson can put in a good shift, it may help his case for more 18s this season.

He has looked much more comfortable with the ball in this year’s training camp than he did last year.