It’s been a long week for Orlando City.
After pulling out a 2-1 victory over D.C. United this past Saturday, the Lions jumped on a flight early Sunday morning to head to Atlanta. They stayed there until Tuesday to wait out Hurricane Irma, which was making its way up the state of Florida at the time. The team got back into town late Tuesday, and now, after just a couple of days back home, they’ll get back on a plane to head to Hotlanta once more to take on Atlanta United (12-8-6, 42 points) this Saturday at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium (4 p.m. ET, Univision).
Orlando City (9-12-7, 34 points) captured its first multi-goal game in almost three months when Cyle Larin and Giles Barnes grabbed first-half goals, giving the Lions just enough of a lead to fend off a D.C. side that made things close at the very end.
Atlanta United comes into the match with far more to play for. Atlanta is sitting firmly in a playoff spot heading into the weekend, six points ahead of the seventh-place team in the East with eight games left on the schedule.
Atlanta is on fire right now after opening its new home with a pair of wins this week, first defeating FC Dallas, 3-0, on Sunday, before steamrolling the New England Revolution, 7-0, on Wednesday night. If anything is heading in Orlando’s favor, it’s that this’ll be Atlanta’s third match in seven days.
This is the third and final meeting between the two sides this season. Atlanta won the first meeting, 1-0, in Orlando in July. Two weeks later, Orlando City was moments away from leaving Atlanta with a win of its own before United tied things up in stoppage time, leading to a 1-1 draw at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
While they were able to snap an eight-game winless streak, the Lions will come into this weekend with three players suspended from the match against D.C. Seb Hines was shown a straight red in stoppage time, just over 10 minutes after Servando Carrasco picked up a second yellow card and was sent off for the night. Then, in the 95th, Kaká picked up a yellow card for arguing with the referee, earning a one-game suspension for accumulation.
Orlando City did appeal Hines’ red card, but it was rejected this week by the league’s Independent Panel.
Additionally, Cristian Higuita picked up a calf injury against D.C. His status is questionable heading into the weekend. Will Johnson remains out due to a league suspension in the wake of his arrest on domestic violence charges.
With Kaká out once again, expect Giles Barnes to get another start in that No. 10 spot. Jason Kreis has shown plenty of confidence in Barnes throughout the season and said after the game in D.C. that he likes what Barnes brings to that role.
More good news for the Lions would be the presence of Jonathan Spector, who was back on the bench against D.C. — he didn’t play though — and could make his return to the starting lineup against Atlanta. That would be big for the Lions and their struggling back line.
Atlanta United FC
Atlanta is playing good soccer right now, as I mentioned in the opening section. It’s outscored opponents 10-0 over the last two games and has only lost once in its last seven games.
Josef Martinez bagged a hat trick on Wednesday night — in the first half — and now has 13 goals in just 13 games (10 starts) this season. With Spector’s potential return to the field, the Lions will stand a better chance at stopping one of the league’s best scorers this season.
Hector Villalba is another name to watch after he scored late goals in each of his first two games against the Lions this season.
Player to Watch For
Villalba has quickly become a thorn in Orlando’s side this season. He not only scored the game-winning goal in the first meeting, but also scored the game-tying goal in stoppage time the last time Orlando went into Atlanta. Keep an eye on him late in the match, as he might just blast another one past Joe Bendik.
Prediction: Atlanta United 2, Orlando City 1
Atlanta will have every advantage of being the home side. Add in its current form and it’ll be a tough 90 minutes for Orlando. I’m looking forward to seeing this stadium in person, though!