NASHVILLE—An Atlanta United team that had no problem scoring goals in its inaugural season put a couple of its newest weapons on display in the 2018 preseason opener.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe served as the Five Stripes' engine during Atlanta's 3-1 victory over USL debutant Nashville SC, controlling possession and serving up an assist on the visitors' game-winning goal.
In addition, 18 year-old midfielder Ezequiel Barco, acquired for an MLS-record transfer fee during the offseason, flashed his potential. One of his best moments occurred late in the first half, when he sprung forward Josef Martinez for an excellent scoring opportunity in the box.
“We've been fortunate enough to see [Barco's] ability and quality in training, so it's nice to see it kind of come to fruition on the field,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “I think he's going to be a great addition to our team, especially with the other players complementing his abilities and strengths. It will be exciting going forward, that's for sure.”
The Five Stripes had suffered some key departures from the 2017 team that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, shedding midfielders Yamil Asad and Carlos Carmona [to Chile's Colo Colo]. But after Saturday afternoon's win, Atlanta coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino directed attention toward the forward potential of ATL UTD's incoming talent.
“With the new additions, Nagbe and Barco, we're able to do a few new things,” Martino said. “We're able to combine very well. They're very good in 1-vs-1 situations.
“So everything we lost with the other two players was more on the holding and defensive side. With the two dynamic attackers, it will help us in the attack.”
Martinez, who led Atlanta with 19 goals last season, picked up right where he left off against Nashville. He poached a botched pass-back to the goalkeeper, taking possession and quickly beating C.J. Cochran for the opening goal.
Nagbe, acquired via trade from Portland in the offseason, set up the game-winner in the 74th minute, dribbling to the top of the box before setting up 19 year-old forward Brandon Vazquez with a pass to his right.
Romario Williams capitalized on a failed clearing attempt to wrap up the scoring two minutes later.
“[The newcomers] have fit in quite easily, and picked up the ideas and the methods that our manager wants to impose on other teams and how we want to play,” Guzan said. “They've been able to pick that up, so it's a credit to their soccer brains and their ability on the ball.”