Is everybody ready to do this again?
Orlando City and Atlanta United FC will face off for the second time in eight days when the Lions travel to Atlanta this weekend for a Saturday afternoon match-up at Bobby Dodd Stadium (4:30 p.m. ET, FOX).
These same two sides met up with each other last Friday in Orlando, with Atlanta (10-7-3, 33 points) taking the first ever match-up, 1-0, thanks to a Hector Villalba screamer in the 86th minute, giving the Five Stripes all they needed to take away the three points.
All this talk about whether or not this is a rivalry, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t, and it shouldn’t; all that matters this weekend is that Orlando City (8-8-5, 29 points) makes the trip to Atlanta and comes back with a victory in hand. It can’t afford to drop another match after falling below the playoff line for the first time this season.
The pressure is on Jason Kreis to get the ship turned around before it’s too late and Kreis must push the Lions into the playoffs as the end of the season — while still a little ways out — gets closer.
Orlando City, as you may have heard, signed a new player this week, acquiring forward Dom Dwyer from Sporting Kansas City. Dwyer joined the team on Tuesday night and will be available for selection when the Lions arrive at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
Dwyer’s addition brings some excitement to the lineup at a much-needed time. The Lions struggled to finish off anything last week, but now have Dwyer and his pace to break up the back line, while Atlanta’s defenders now have to take some focus away from other guys like Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas, and Kaká.
How Kreis will line up the rest of the team around Dwyer will be the interesting thing to watch for. Rivas obviously doesn’t have a full-time spot up top next to Larin anymore, which makes you wonder where Kreis plans to put him, and whether or not he sticks with the same flat 4-4-2, which hasn’t brought the Lions much success this season. Bringing back the diamond might be an easy solution with Kaká returning to the top and having the freedom to roam. Rivas can cover plenty of ground up and down the right side while continuing to whip crosses off of his left foot.
As always, though, it’s up to the coach — and not myself — to figure out how the team plays.
The rest of the squad is reportedly healthy, aside from Rafael Ramos’ hamstring and PC’s tweaked adductor, and I wouldn’t expect any other changes this weekend.
The boys from the Peach State expect to field the same lineup again in Round 2. Josef Martinez, the team’s co-leading goal scorer with nine goals this season and missed the first meeting with Orlando last week, will be out for a second straight week because of a foot injury. Atlanta was able to win without him last week, of course, but it’s still a tough loss to deal with.
Otherwise, nothing else is new in the Atlanta camp.
Player to Watch For
Last week I said it would be Martinez and he didn’t play, and that made Villalba one of the most dangerous men on the pitch. Atlanta’s attack pressured Orlando throughout the night, and, as we saw, it didn’t take much for Villalba to let off a 30-yard strike that sailed into the upper-right corner past Joe Bendik.
He’s going to be a main focus for Orlando again.
Prediction: Orlando City 1, Atlanta United 1
No, Dom Dwyer doesn’t score in his Orlando City debut, but it’ll be somebody and this time the Lions walk away with a point, which is better than nothing.