The Lions travel up the road to the Peach State to take on Don Garber’s second-favorite team (NYCFC is first) and the club the league’s pundits love to gush about while Toronto FC continues to pound everyone up north in relative anonymity.
Orlando City needs points in bunches and they only come three at a time, so the Lions will have to play the game until the final whistle to avoid the late gut punch of the first two meetings. Personally, I’d be OK with the Albanians from the Taken movies abducting Hector Villalba in the 70th minute. But I digress.
Orlando City and Atlanta United have played some tight matches so far. Where are we with the whole “rivalry” thing after only two head-to-head matches?
Haris Kruskic: I think both results were crazy enough, both clubs were physical enough, and both fan bases were mean enough during the first two matches that this can finally turn into a true rivalry. Throughout the buildup to the two previous matches, I noticed MLS try and build up a rivalry between the clubs almost out of nothing on social media. That really bothered me because it didn't seem natural at all. Just because two teams are close to one another doesn't make them rivals. However, I think the dislike between the two clubs is becoming genuine in all aspects I mentioned before: crazy results, physical play among the teams, and two utterly annoying fan bases. I say "annoying" with love.
Games in hand are something that Atlanta has. The obvious fact is that those extra games provide more opportunities to gain points, which is 100% true. The less obvious one is that a more congested schedule down the stretch of a long season could be problematic. How are Atlanta fans and the team viewing this final stretch of the season?
HK: They're happy because Atlanta plays six straight at home (they've already played two of those) and the fans hadn't seen them play in Atlanta since the last meeting with Orlando. United is a much different side at home, and they really seem to be enjoying themselves on the bigger pitch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Yes, a congested schedule is always a bit of a concern when one considers the lack of rest, training time, and a potential increase in injuries. However, until there's an immediate cause for concern, Atlanta supporters are happy at the moment.
What’s Atlanta’s weakest link right now and if you put your coach’s hat on, what would you do to stop the team’s attack and attack the team’s defense?
HK: Atlanta's weakest link is how I would stop their attack and attack their defense. It doesn't matter how many goals they've scored this season. When teams like D.C. United (who we've lost to three times this season) bunker down and put 11 men behind the ball, Atlanta has been incapable of breaking them down. I still think the "Liverpool of MLS" is a good comparison until Atlanta proves me wrong.
If teams don't give play makers like Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba space to create, they pressure the ball off them and catch Atlanta's back line out of position with the counter-attack because of how attack-minded Tata Martino tends to be. Now, perhaps that's why bigger pitches are so favorable for Atlanta. It's much harder to continuously put pressure on all of their attackers when they have acres to work with.
Sure it's not sexy soccer if you're the opposing side, but it's proven to be effective.
Injuries?/Suspensions?/Projected starting XI?/Score prediction?
HK: Injuries: Kenwyne Jones, Alec Kann, Zach Loyd.
Suspensions: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
Projected Starting XI (4-3-3): Brad Guzan; Mikey Ambrose, Anton Walkes, Michael Parkhurst, Tyrone Mears; Carlos Carmona, Jeff Larentowicz, Miguel Almiron; Yamil Asad, Hector Villalba, Josef Martinez.
Score Prediction: 3-2 Atlanta.
Big thanks to Haris from Dirty South Soccer for returning to give us more perspective on Atlanta United.