Welcome to your match thread for a Friday night match-up between Orlando City (7-15-2, 23 points) and Atlanta United (15-4-6, 51 points) at Orlando City Stadium. It’s the third and final scheduled Southeast Showdown (*must credit The Mane Land PawedCast) between the Eastern Conference rivals this season, with the Georgia side taking the first two.
It can’t be called a rivalry until Orlando City gets on the board in this series, and there would be no bigger way to do that than for the Lions to pull off an upset over the Supporters’ Shield leaders to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement. However, putting the league’s leakiest defense up against the top scoring team in MLS seems like a difficult task to me.
Orlando lost the last match-up on its home turf, 2-1, back 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 could get no closer. The unfortunate ending with a shower of debris coming out of the stands due to dissatisfaction with referee Alan Kelly’s decisions that night may have killed the Lions’ hopes for a dramatic equalizer. Atlanta easily claimed the most recent meeting, 4-0 at Mercedez-Benz Stadium on June 30.
The Lions are 0-3-2 in the fledgling series, but might have picked up a few more points if not for the existence of Hector Villalba. His two late goals in the first two meetings turned a draw and a win into a loss and a draw. The two teams kicked off their 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 of last year. 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 5-5-2 at home this season while Atlanta is a league best 7-2-2 on the road. Orlando City is winless in five games (0-4-1), while Atlanta is unbeaten in six (4-0-2). James O’Connor will be the third different coach to lead the Lions against Atlanta this season after Jason Kreis and Bobby Murphy managed the first two.
As usual, 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 and we’ve seen it enough times now to know this. His 110 shots this season are second only to Sebastian Giovinco (118) in MLS. His nine goals and 11 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 27 goals. He’ll want to score tonight to capture the MLS single-season goal-scoring record. Villalba also has a flair for the dramatic against Orlando City, but you can’t sleep on Julian Gressel or Barco either as both have hurt the Lions.
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 in a difficult situation with Higuita and Yoshimar Yotún both suspended. RJ Allen (concussion), Jonathan Spector (hamstring), and Lamine Sané (knee) are likely out, while Sacha Kljestan (ankle) is questionable. New defender/midfielder Carlos Ascues is available for selection. 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 fullbacks Mikey Ambrose and Sal Zizzo (both with knee injuries).
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 chat with Orlando City Communications Manager Rafa Cabrera.
- Our bearded guy tries to predict tonight’s lineup for the Lions.
- Our Ethan Smith looks at what Orlando City has to do to finally beat Atlanta.
Orlando City (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Joe Bendik.
Defenders: PC, Jonathan Spector, Shane O’Neill, Scott Sutter.
Defensive Midfielders: Carlos Ascues, Uri Rosell.
Attacking Midfielders: Chris Mueller, Will Johnson, Josué Colmán.
Forward: Dom Dwyer.
Bench: Earl Edwards Jr., Amro Tarek, Stefano Pinho, Dillon Powers, Jose Villareal, Tony Rocha, Pierre Da Silva.
Atlanta United (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Defenders: Chris McCann, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Julian Gressel.
Defensive Midfielders: Eric Remedi, Jeff Larentowicz.
Attacking Midfielders: Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba,
Forward: Josef Martinez.
Bench: Alec Kann, Jose Hernandez, Kevin Kratz, Romario Williams, Miles Robinson, Andrew Carleton, George Bello.
REF: Ismail Elfath.
AR1: Eduardo Mariscal.
AR2: Jose Da Silva.
4TH: Sorin Stoica.
VAR: Caleb Mendez.
How to Watch
Match Time: 8 p.m. ET.
Venue: Orlando City Stadium — Orlando, FL.
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!