Game Preview: Atlanta United
The 2021 team gets a real test
UPDATE: The Legion front office has confirmed that there will be no live stream available for this game. However, a limited number of seats remains for sale the day of the game.
On Sunday we get our first chance to have a good look at the 2021 edition of the Birmingham Legion, which has made a number of changes to its lineup. This will be Atlanta United’s fourth (and last) outing of the preseason, but their first in front of a crowd, and their roster has undergone wholesale changes. Other than a fairly poorly produced stream of last weekend’s games against the Charleston Battery, all Atlanta fans have seen are a few highlight clips.
Unfortunately for the Atlanta faithful, and for all Legion fans except season ticket holders and the limited number to get open seats, we are at this time unaware of a way to view Sunday’s festivities, either over the air or streamed. If that changes, we will be sure to let you know. So, this first look is going to be for a favored few.
It’s going to be an extensive look, too. Since we will be treated to two 80-minute games, it’s more or less guaranteed that the entire roster of both teams will be on display. That means we will get to evaluate a bunch of players not previously active with either squad. So, what can we expect?
Birmingham Legion FC
Notable new players: Phanuel Kavita, Ryan James, Junior Flemmings
Notable departures: Brian Wright, Razak Cromwell, Mathieu Laurent, Bolu Akinyode
Of the players not returning, Akinyode is probably the biggest surprise as he was announced as being under contract on Deember 1st of last year. By January 15th, he was traded to The Miami FC. He will be missed.
But the additions are upgrades. All three of them.
Kavita joins the team from the now-defunct Saint Louis FC and as a defender was one of that team’s strongest players. He will be a solid addition to the back line, primarily as a centerback.
James comes to the Legion from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and can play as a wingback, left back or central midfielder. As a speedy fullback, he will mirror the superfast Jonny Dean on the right.
Flemmings was most recently with Phoenix Rising. He led all USL players in scoring over the past two seasons with 30 goals. Adding him to Neco Brett means the Legion is a serious scoring threat at all times.
Tactically, we can expect a lot of pressing. With two strong fullbacks on the roster, the Legion will be looking to push upfield hard. A lot. And with proven goalscorers up front, opposing defenses are going to find themselves under a constant barrage.
Atlanta United FC
Notable new players: Santiago Sosa, Erik Lopez, Franco Ibarra, Lisandro Lopez, Alan Franco
Notable departures: Franco Escobar, Eric Remedi, Jeff Larentowicz
Well, there’s going to be a Lopez family reunion, I guess.
The most important addition to Atlanta United is of course its new head coach Gabriel Heinze who will bring back a South American flair to the team that was sadly lacking the past two seasons under Frank de Boer and interim coach Stephen Glass. The second most important change to the team is the return from injury of Josef Martinez, who missed almost all of 2020 with an ACL tear in the very first game of the MLS season. His current fitness is a question mark, and he has played relatively limited minutes in preseason so far.
Of the new players, don’t expect to see Alan Franco. His joining Atlanta has been something of a tragicomedy. The Five Stripes’ biggest hole at the moment is centerback. Franco is the team’s third attempt to fill that hole. The first choice ended up elsewhere after a bidding war, the second choice failed his medical, and Franco was set to board a plane when another bidding war erupted. the other team eventually backed out, and he was set to fly once again when he tested COVID-positive. So he’s stuck in Argentina for the time being.
With that piece still temporarily missing, it remains unclear what formation Atlanta will operate under. Heinze has been very tight-lipped so far, with almost no press availability being offered. Atlanta appear to be keeping everything as much under wraps as they can. Even if Heinze had been available, his press conferences notoriously go off on philosophical tangents. What is clear is that Atlanta, like Birmingham, will press, most likely with wingbacks until Franco arrives. Heinze also favors having all players capable of playing multiple roles, so there’s going to be a lot a switching around (much like the Legion has used Mikey Lopez in the past). And it also looks like Santiago Sosa will play a pivotal role as a deep central midfielder.
Overall, expect to see a lot at attacking entertaining soccer from both teams.
Oh, and bring wet weather gear. Storms are predicted to have passed through by lunchtime Sunday, but you never know. And more importantly, bring items for tornado relief.