Andrew Carleton has worked toward playing more with Atlanta United’s first team with his performances during the preseason, which included the 17-year-old going 90 minutes in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Charleston, according to manager Gerardo Martino.
“He is still a young player and going through a development process, but the way he played tonight, and the way he’s played through the whole preseason, he’s put himself closer to the first team than the USL team,” Martino said.
Carleton, playing in the middle for the first time this preseason, was the bright spot on offense because of his vision and instincts.
Early in the first half, a pass from fullback Franco Escobar bounced off the foot of a Charleston defender. With the ball bouncing behind him, Carleton slowed his run and hit the ball with the heel of his right foot. The ball looped over his head, over the defender and to Escobar, who caught up to it a few yards from goal, but at a tight angle.
“I saw Franco making a run through and I knew if I hit it it was the best I was going to be able to do,” Carleton said. “It worked out decently well.”
Carleton followed that with header later in the first half that was turned away by goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper for a corner kick. Carleton said he was surprised that he was able to get any power on the shot because he hit it from a standing position. He said he thought the shot was going to hit the bar.
Carleton connected on another pass in the second half that was as audacious as the backheel was in the first.
Receiving a pass on the right side of the field, Carleton one-timed a pass with the outside of his right foot back across and down the field. The ball split Charleston’s surprised defenders and was hit with the perfect touch for Jon Gallagher to run on to. Gallagher tried to chip the onrushing Cooper, who batted away the shot.
“I thought I played well,” Carleton said. “I could have been sharper in a few areas. It’s always about getting better.”
Carleton is a player that Atlanta United supporters have been clamoring to see since he signed as the first Homegrown player.
The Powder Springs native made one league appearance last season in a blowout win against Houston. He also played in the loss at Miami in the U.S. Open Cup. He was a bright spot in the latest preseason game.
Carleton said it doesn’t matter if he plays out wide, as he did in the preseason games at Nashville or Columbus, or in the middle. Like everyone on the team, he just wants to play.
“Being a versatile player is always going to help,” he said. “It’s my job to show him (Martino) I’m capable of playing wherever he needs to play.”
Carleton wasn’t the only bright spot on Saturday.
Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu and Miles Robinson, two players who were selected in last year’s draft but didn’t log any league minutes last season, looked sharp in 90 minutes on Saturday.
Wheeler-Omiunu started at defensive midfielder before shifting to right fullback. Martino said Wheeler-Omiunu and Carleton were two of the best players on the field.
Wheeler-Omiunu showed speed in chasing down a Battery player on a long run in the first half, and then did so again on another breakaway in the second.
Wheeler-Omiunu also made several tough tackles in the first half.
“I felt comfortable but that’s because my teammates gave me a lot of confidence,” Wheeler-Omiunu said. “Playing around people like Kevin (Kratz) and Parkie (Michael Parkhurst) who have so much experience, they are able to communicate with you. I’m grateful for their assistance.”
Wheeler-Omiunu said he grew up playing mostly as a midfielder, but Martino has given him looks at both positions.
“The biggest thing is I try to watch the people on my team who are successful do it,” he said. “Like you watch Jeff (Larentowicz) play the 6, you watch (Chris) McCann play the 6, you watch Greg (Garza) play outside back, (the players) who I believe are very successful on our team.”
The team does have a hole on the roster at defensive midfielder following the sale of Carlos Carmona.
“All the players gave coach something to think about,” Wheeler-Omiunu said. “We trained to play. That’s a great mentality that coach has built on the team. All we can do is hope we gave him something to think about.”
Lastly, Martino said Robinson was good marking as a defender and is working on being to play out of the back, which is important for him.