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Atlanta United’s injury report grows, Franco Escobar enters concussion protocol

Mar 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) is carried off the field after being injured against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United F.C.’s injury report keeps growing.

On Wednesday, the club confirmed defender Franco Escobar has entered concussion protocol. He has not trained this week and the club does not have a timetable for his return.

During stoppage time in Atlanta’s 4-1 win over Vancouver on Saturday, Brad Guzan collided with Escobar while trying to bat a ball out of the penalty area.

The 23-year-old Argentinian defender has started in all three of Atlanta’s contests this season, in 3-5-2 and 4-2-1-3 formations. He joined the club this year from Argentina’s Newell Old Boys.

Atlanta United has 10 days until its next game, a road trip to Minnesota on March 31. The Five Stripes’ switch to the 3-5-2 since they were demolished in Week 1 at Houston has resulted in seven goals for them and two wins. But Escobar’s absence could throw a wrench into how the formation works.

The Five Stripes’ defensive depth chart is not a deep one. Gerardo “Tata” Martino could turn to traditional defenders Sal Zizzo or Miles Robinson. Martino also could rely on Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Chris McCann or Julian Gressel.

Zizzo, Robinson and Wheeler-Omiunu have not played in a regular season game this season. Gressel has been thriving on the right wing in the 3-5-2, tallying two assists in Atlanta’s last two games.

Still injured for the Five Stripes’ is young star Ezequiel Barco, who hurt his quad in training before the season opener. The club initially indicated Barco would miss four to six weeks, but last Thursday, Martino said Barco could return as soon as the end of March and be available for the game against Minnesota United.

The 18-year-old Argentine is the most expensive player in MLS transfer history, as Atlanta paid his former club $15 million for his rights. Barco started in three preseason games. Since his injury, Barco has been seen around the team’s training facility in Marietta wearing street clothes. He was also in the locker room after Atlanta’s wins over D.C. United and Vancouver.

Other players out for Atlanta United right now due to injury include Brandon Vasquez (left hamstring), Jon Gallagher (ankle) and José Hernández (quad). Reserve goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks with a left knee sprain. He was expected to spend most of his time this season playing with Atlanta’s USL affiliate, ATL UTD 2, and posted on Instagram that he was “gutted” that he couldn’t be with the team for its season opener on March 24.

Mar 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps forward Alphonso Davies (67) pushes the ball up the pitch against Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Extra notes:

• Six Atlanta United players were called up for duty with their national teams. Darlington Nagbe was called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team, Miguel Almirón has joined team Paraguay and Romario Williams is with Jamaica for its friendly against Antigua and Barbuda on March 25. Nagbe and Almirón will face off in Cary, N.C., in a friendly on March 27. Shawn Nicklaw, a 28-year-old ATL UTD 2 defender, is currently with the Guam National Team. Chris Goslin and Andrew Carleton are both with the United States U-20 team. All first team players will return to Atlanta United before the Minnesota game, the club said.

• Atlanta is one of 23 North American cities on the final list for the 2026 World Cup bid committee represented by the United States, Canada and Mexico that was submitted to FIFA. If the bid succeeds, FIFA will have the option to narrow the list to 16 or fewer cities. Atlanta would host games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Falcons and Atlanta United.

• The kickoff for Atlanta’s match against the Chicago Fire on May 5 has been moved up to 8:30 p.m. from its original start time at 6 p.m. at Toyota Park.

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