Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday night match-up between Orlando City (6-9-1, 19 points) and Atlanta United (10-3-4, 34 points) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s the second of the three scheduled Southeast Showdown (*must credit The Mane Land PawedCast) meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals this season, with the finale of the season series coming in Orlando on Aug. 24.
It’s hard to believe now but the last time these two teams met they were separated by only three points in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference standings. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Orlando lost the most recent meeting, 2-1, at home on May 13. An early penalty on a Cristian Higuita foul gave the visitors a leg up on a Josef Martinez goal from the spot and Ezequiel Barco doubled the lead before halftime. Justin Meram scored his first as a Lion to pull one back but Orlando — which played well through most of the game — could get no closer. The unfortunate ending with a shower of debris coming out of the stands due to unrest with referee Alan Kelly’s decisions that night may have killed the Lions’ hopes for a dramatic equalizer.
The Lions are 0-2-2 in the fledgling series, but might be 1-1-2 if not for the existence of Hector Villalba. His two very goals in the first two meetings turned a draw and a win into a loss and a draw. The two teams kicked off their first ever season series with Orlando suffering a late 1-0 loss at home on July 21, 2017. Villalba found the net in minute 86 to ruin what was a pretty good performance by the Lions, despite the dearth of goals. Villalba proved that he was indeed the man Orlando fans should direct all hate towards when his stoppage-time tally rescued a 1-1 draw for Atlanta in the second meeting on July 29. Kaká scored one of his best goals as a Lion in that match to provide Orlando’s tally.
Orlando City became the first visiting team to take any points out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium last season with a 3-3 draw in Atlanta last September. Dom Dwyer scored his first brace as a Lion (in MLS, anyway) and also assisted on Cyle Larin’s goal. Martinez’s hat trick spoiled Orlando’s bid to take all three points.
The Lions are 2-5-0 away from home this season while Atlanta is 5-2-2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Orlando City rides a seven-game losing streak into this weekend, while Atlanta is unbeaten in five (2-0-3). Bobby Murphy is 0-1-1 in all competitions in his second stint as the club’s interim head coach and tonight will be his last match in charge after the hiring of James O’Connor yesterday.
Atlanta midfielder Miguel Almiron is the man to whom Orlando must pay the most attention. His propensity for turning opposition turnovers into lightning-fast transition attacks is the Five Stripes’ greatest weapon. His 75 shots this season are second only to Sebastian Giovinco in MLS. His six goals and seven assists show how dangerous he can be.
Martinez is another obvious nemesis with his hat trick last year in the third meeting and his league-leading 14 goals. Watch for him to be especially dangerous this week after uncharacteristically blowing multiple sitters last weekend against Portland because...well, that’s just how things go, I guess, especially lately. Villalba also has a flair for the dramatic against Orlando City, but you can’t sleep on Julian Gressel or Barco either.
Watch for Atlanta to pressure on defense and push the tempo whenever it has the ball. Giving the ball away in the midfield is usually lethal against Atlanta’s quick counter. Whichever midfield can exert its will over the other should have a leg up in this game.
Orlando City is surprisingly healthy and both Higuita and left back Mohamed El-Munir should be good to go after serving suspensions. So the only regulars missing are Yoshimar Yotún, who will arrive back from Russia on Saturday, and Justin Meram, who was given a three-day leave for personal reasons. Atlanta has only a few injuries of its own but it does have a couple of big ones. Defender Greg Garza (shoulder surgery) and midfielder Darlington Nagbe (adductor) are both out, as well as defender Chris McCann (lower leg).
Mandatory Match #Content
Here's your mandatory match content for tonight:
- Our Intelligence Report provides more info about the Five Stripes from Haris Kruskic from SB Nation’s Atlanta United blog, Dirty South Soccer.
- This week's PawedCast includes our key match-ups and score predictions, plus our exclusive interview with new Orlando City defender Shane O’Neill, who will be eligible for selection starting July 10.
- Our Ben Miller writes that Orlando City must avoid making the same mistakes from the first meeting this time around against Atlanta.
Orlando City (3-4-3)
Goalkeeper: Joe Bendik.
Defenders: Amro Tarek, Lamine Sané, Jonathan Spector.
Wingbacks / Midfielders: Mohamed El-Munir, Will Johnson, Uri Rosell, Scott Sutter.
Forwards: Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan, Dom Dwyer.
Bench: Earl Edwards Jr., RJ Allen, Tony Rocha, Stefano Pinho, Richie Laryea, Dillon Powers, Josué Colmán.
Atlanta United (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Defenders: Mikey Ambrose. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar.
Defensive Midfielders: Jeff Larentowicz, Julian Gressel.
Attacking Midfielders: Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba.
Forward: Josef Martinez.
Bench: Alec Kann, Sal Zizzo, Kevin Kratz, Brandon Vazquez, Romario Williams, Miles Robinson, Andrew Carleton.
Ref: Kevin Stott.
AR1: Cameron Blanchard.
AR2: Adam Garner.
4th: Fotis Bazakos.
VAR: Dave Gantar.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7 p.m. ET.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA.
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes.
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), La Nueva 990 (Spanish).
Streaming: Watch ESPN, ESPN3.
Match Thread Rules
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Enjoy the match! Go City!