As Orlando City’s season winds down with the Lions looking up at most of the Eastern Conference, the Lions have been provided with an opportunity. If City is destined to make the postseason, it must play spoiler along the way. Atlanta United presents the first and arguably most difficult of these challenges tonight with several things on the line for the Five Stripes.
Atlanta is in a race for the Supporters’ Shield with razor-thin margins as the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC, and FC Dallas are hot on its heels. Points dropped against Orlando would put a huge dent in those hopes. Josef Martinez is also aiming to set the record for goals scored in a single Major League Soccer season and Orlando has the opportunity to at least delay him in Orlando City Stadium.
Josef Martinez has been on another level this season. What changed from last year to improve his goal scoring so much?
Haris Kruskic: He has avoided injuries. That’s honestly the only reason why I think he didn’t break the record last season. In 2017, he missed almost half the regular season and still managed to score 19 goals. His consistency when healthy is the best this league has probably ever seen and that’s just a testament to his work ethic and desire to keep his foot on the gas for a full 90 minutes.
Other than these clubs’ last meeting, Atlanta and Orlando always seem to play each other closely even with a decent distance between them on the table. Why do you think that is?
HK: I think there is something to be said for a rivalry game. Although the players might deny that it’s a rivalry, there always seems to be a different kind of atmosphere whenever these two teams get together compared to other matches throughout the season. Fans on both sides seem to have a dislike for one another and that has only added to their hope to see the other team do poorly. As a result, when these rivalry matches haven’t gone either team’s way, the supporters have done regrettable things that have ultimately impacted the players on the field.
Both teams almost always seem up for this match because they know how much it means to their respective fan bases. Although this season has been a bit of a struggle for Orlando, I think they’ll do their best to get their first win against Atlanta at home.
Atlanta’s only summer signing was midfielder Eric Remedi. What can Orlando fans expect to see from the Argentinean?
HK: Since Darlington Nagbe has been out with an injury, Eric Remedi’s really only played as a No. 8, although we expected to see him more as a defensive midfielder when he first signed. He is the true replacement for Carlos Carmona, who unexpectedly left in the off-season. I like the Carmona comparison not just because they play somewhat similarly, but because I actually think Remedi is a better passer and presser of the ball than the Chilean was. I’ve been impressed by his willingness to defend up field rather than just sit back and wait for the attackers and midfielders to come to him. He’s a quality signing.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
HK: Injuries: Mikey Ambrose, Greg Garza, Darlington Nagbe, Sal Zizzo.
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Brad Guzan; Chris McCann, Leandro González Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar; Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Remedi, Miguel Almiron; Hector Villalba, Julian Gressel, Josef Martinez.
Prediction: 3-1 Atlanta.
Thanks again to Haris for taking the time to give us more information on Atlanta United.