Orlando CIty’s brief home stand is over as the Lions travel north to take on current Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta United. Bobby Murphy gets another crack at a conference foe after a disappointing 2-0 loss last week against the Montreal Impact. City is mostly healthy, but it will be a tall task to take on the title contenders with the team’s current form.
Haris Kuskic, editor for SB Nation’s Dirty South Soccer, is back to give us an update on the team from The Big Peach. If you’re interested in seeing my answers to his questions, you can check them out on their site.
It’s been a while since these teams last met. What’s changed for Atlanta United since Mother’s Day?
Haris Kuskic: Greg Garza underwent shoulder surgery back in May and is out for three to five months. Chris McCann (when he isn’t dealing with a hamstring injury himself) and former Orlando City player Mikey Ambrose have filled in for the time being, and quite well I might add. We found out earlier in the week that Darlington Nagbe suffered an abductor injury and is sidelined for two to three months. I’ll get into the impact of that loss in a little bit.
Atlanta has only won one of its last five matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has worried quite a few fans. However, the players and coach Tata Martino don’t seem to be worried considering where they stand in the Eastern Conference.
Other than that though, not a whole lot has changed in terms of tactics or personnel. Atlanta’s just trying to maintain the Supporters’ Shield lead midway through the season.
Darlington Nagbe has been ruled out for several months due to injury. How can Atlanta replace his production?
HK: With Nagbe out, Martino will rely on Julian Gressel to step in and continue to work as a Swiss Army knife of sorts for the team. The German has seen almost all of his playing time come at the right wing/wingback role, but he moved centrally after Nagbe exited the last match. His play in midfield has been suspect at times, but he’s certainly the best option for Atlanta at the moment.
The Five Stripes are locked in a tight battle for the top of the Eastern Conference (and Supporters’ Shield). What do they need to do to see off the challenge from both New York clubs? How important would a Shield be to United?
HK: Atlanta United needs to adapt to including a player that hasn’t even joined the team yet. Eric Remedi, another midfielder from Argentina, is reportedly set to join Atlanta once the transfer window opens on July 10. With Nagbe out, Remedi will likely see playing time as soon as he makes his way stateside. Making him comfortable with the system quickly will be of utmost importance.
The team will also need to remember how to win in a 4-3-3 formation, as Atlanta has struggled when Martino steers them away from the 3-5-2 players have grown accustomed to this season. Having the 4-3-3 as a reliable second option deep into the season would be quite helpful in certain match-ups against teams that struggle to defend.
The shield would be important because it’d be the very first trophy Atlanta won. Other than that though, it’s not like the Supporters’ Shield winner is guaranteed a spot in the Concacaf Champions League anymore. Atlanta still has its eyes firmly set on the MLS Cup.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
Injuries: Garza and Nagbe are out, McCann is questionable.
Lineup (4-3-3): Brad Guzan; Mikey Ambrose, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar; Jeff Larentowicz, Julian Gressel, Miguel Almiron; Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba, Josef Martinez
Predicted score: 3-1, Atlanta.
Thanks again to Haris for taking the time to answer some questions about the Five Stripes!