There’s a distinct difference between this weekend’s match between Orlando City and Atlanta United and the two previous encounters. It’s not the indoor environment of Mercedes-Benz Stadium or the lack of Kaká, who will be sidelined due to yellow card accumulation. It’s Orlando’s addition of Designated Player Yoshimar Yotun, who had not signed with the Lions when these two sides met twice in July.
Saturday should see the introduction of DPs from both sides. Atlanta’s striker Josef Martinez was out due to injury for those back-to-back matches, but Martinez is more of the same for United. He’s another quick option up top that can score and there’s not much difference tactically in defending against Martinez and Hector Villalba. It adds another dangerous piece, but doesn’t change the overall attack. Yotun, on the other hand, has been a missing piece for an Orlando midfield that has sorely lacked his abilities.
There were sparks of something Orlando City hasn’t proved consistently capable of in the win against D.C. United: the ability to play the ball out of pressure and go through the midfield. The quartet of Yotun, Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, and Giles Barnes proved able to play one-touch passes and get out of trouble. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective when it had to be:
Yotun’s bit of individual skill helped him get out of another pinch, nutmegging Marcelo Sarvas to beat two United defenders and get himself into space.
The key to beating the other red and black United over the course of the season is being able to beat its press. The biggest weakness of Atlanta is its defense, which struggles to defend people in one-on-one situations and aerial battles, and often gets caught out of position. Orlando’s struggles for most of the season have been the inability to play through the midfield and connect all three phases of the game. In the Lions’ previous two matches with Atlanta, Yotun had yet to don the purple and gold and the team resorted to long balls over the top. It worked once as Joe Bendik found the foot of Cyle Larin, who laid the ball off for Kaká’s world-class strike.
But it’s only worked once in 180 minutes. And the probability of everything clicking like that again is low. So it’s time to change things up a bit.
Yotun has been instrumental in getting City’s prized attackers the ball in dangerous areas. His combination with Dom Dwyer last week set up several chances for the Lions down the lefthand side. With center back-turned-fullback Anton Walkes, Tyrone Mears — who has lost a step and a half from his Seattle days — and the aging Michael Parkhurst being the most likely candidates to defend that half of the field, there’s a distinct advantage for the Lions if they can continue that positive movement.
It can’t all be on Yotun’s shoulders, obviously. The offense will flow through him with Kaká suspended, but there’s an onus on the defense to stay compact; getting behind early and chasing the game is a death sentence against Atlanta. Cyle Larin and Dom Dwyer also have to put away the chances Yotun gives them. The growing relationship between the star strikers finally saw dividends last week, but it’s still developing. Yoshi and Barnes can only do their best to set them up for success.
The Peruvian international can’t control the other two thirds of the pitch, but once the ball gets into the midfield he can take over, and that could be the difference on Saturday.