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Atlanta United notebook: Carleton loaned down, Mbia signing unlikely

Mar 11, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Andrew Carleton (30) celebrates with midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) after their game against the D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United F.C. fans received confirmation Friday that Andrew Carleton, one of the club’s young homegrown stars, will play with United Soccer League affiliate ATL UTD 2 on Saturday.

The USL side’s Twitter account posted a photo of Carleton at 12:30 p.m. Friday saying, “That feeling when you make your ATL UTD 2 debut tomorrow.”

Carleton, 17, has appeared in three Major League Soccer games this season, tallying one assist over a total of 14 minutes played. Before the season started, Atlanta coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said Carleton would split time between the first team and the second-tier USL affiliate. Last season, Carleton, Atlanta’s first-ever homegrown signing, played in four games with the team’s former USL affiliate, the Charleston Battery.

But with ATL UTD 2 so close by in Gwinnett County, Ga., moving players like Carleton, Miles Robinson and Mikey Ambrose between the teams is much easier. Although there has been some debate among fans and media members as to the best way to develop a player as young and talented as Carleton — have him play sparingly in MLS or rack up minutes at the USL level?

Carleton wasn’t on Atlanta United’s 18-man roster for it’s 2-2 tie against NYCFC last week, but was in the press box wearing a suit. Wednesday, he trained with ATL UTD 2, but Martino only offered sarcasm when asked if Carleton would play with ATL UTD 2 this weekend.

“We’re deciding,” Martino said through a translator. “Are you worried about him? He’s only 17.”

Carleton last saw game action in Atlanta’s 5-0 home win over LAFC. Saturday will mark his first USL appearance of the year. ATL UTD 2 will take on Louisville City F.C. on Saturday at Coolray Field, kicking off at 7 p.m. ET.

Atlanta: home for international stars?

With the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović to MLS and Atlanta United spending big on players like Ezequiel Barco, some have wondered, does Atlanta United consider itself a destination for players of similar caliber to Ibrahimović?

Martino thinks the answer would be, “No.”

“I’d say that wouldn’t really fall in line with the policy of the club, based on the conversations I’ve had with our club president and the technical director since we started talking about Atlanta,” Martino said through a translator on Wednesday. “But, I’m also not in a position to say that it would never happen. (It’s) business.”

Set piece diversions

Atlanta tried an intriguing set piece Sunday that involved Kevin Kratz, Miguel Almirón and Jeff Larentowicz. The ball was about 19 yards from the goal and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Kratz would take the kick. But Kratz stuttered, then Almirón charged before stepping over the ball and flicking it back with his heel. That left room for Larentowicz to take a shot. The ball collided into the chest of an NYCFC defender, but had he not been there, the rocket of a shot would’ve been on target.

“It’s something we’ve talked about, for sure. When you’re that close, it can be difficult for some guys to bend it,” Larentowicz said. “In that situation, we wanted to kind of move the ball so you eliminate the wall and you can shoot around it. So, that’s what we were going for. We usually don’t do it with guys there (in a wall) in practice because you don’t want to hurt anybody, so we use mannequins, things that don’t move and things that don’t get concussed.”

How’s Barco?

The $15 million man trained with the team all week and traveled to Los Angeles. He’ll almost certainly be in the 18, but there’s still a question about if he’ll start against Zlatan and Co.

“He’s training with us,” Leandro González Pírez said. “He’s ready for this game. I don’t know if he’ll play or not but he’s ready.”

Martino added that Barco “needs more game rhythm” and the coaching staff will evaluate him and decide if he’s fit enough to start or come off the bench.

Mbia signing seems unlikely

Less than two weeks ago, Cameroonian defensive midfielder Stephane Mbia was spotted in Atlanta and fans hoped he’d be the answer to the team’s search for a No. 6 since the departure of Carlos Carmona. But a deal between the club and the 31-year-old seems less likely now.

“I don’t know what happened with the contract talks,” Martino said. “All I know is I had a short conversation with (Mbia), but aside from that I wasn’t informed anything by the directors. It’s important in these cases that everyone falls in their correct place, so my job here is the soccer side and I leave the rest here to the other people.”

The MLS transfer window closes May 1.

Injury updates

Martino said Mitch Hildebrant (left knee) is “closer everyday.”

Despite his hand injury, Josef Martínez “trained normally all week,” Martino said.

Martino didn’t comment on the status of Héctor “Tito” Villalba, but the Argentinian striker trained on the side away from the team Wednesday. In a video on the club’s Twitter page, Villalba wasn’t seen getting off the team bus in Los Angeles. He is officially listed as questionable with a lower left extremity injury. Also, he got a haircut.

Franco Escobar trained with the team all week and Martino said he will be available for selection on Saturday. He is listed as questionable with a head injury. He suffered a concussion against the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 17.

José Hernández is still out with a quad injury.

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