Welcome to your match thread for a Mother’s Day match-up between Orlando City (3-4-3, 12 points) and Atlanta United (4-3-2, 14 points) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s the first of two scheduled Southeast Showdowns (*must credit The Mane Land PawedCast) between the Eastern Conference rivals this season.
It can’t be called a rivalry until Orlando City gets on the board in this series, so the Lions will need to pull off an upset to create one. Atlanta got off to a sluggish start in the post-Tata Martino and post-Miguel Almiron era but seems to have righted the ship just in time for Orlando to come calling, because that’s how these things work.
Orlando City is 0-4-2 in the all-time series and 0-1-2 at Atlanta, which is better than the team’s dreadful 0-3-0 home record against United.
Atlanta won the most recent meeting at Orlando City Stadium on Aug. 24 of last year by a 2-1 final score. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez bundled home a rebound off Joe Bendik, who misplayed Ezequiel Barco’s free kick to open the scoring just 21 minutes in. Scott Sutter tied the game just before the half, but Josef Martinez broke the deadlock in the second half, with just 16 minutes remaining in normal time.
Atlanta easily claimed the most recent meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 4-0 on June 30. Martinez and Barco scored a goal apiece and Almiron added a brace. Orlando lost the first match-up of 2018, 2-1, back on May 13. An early penalty on a Cristian Higuita foul gave the visitors a leg up on a Martinez goal from the spot and Barco doubled the lead before halftime. Justin Meram — now with Atlanta — scored his first goal 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.
The Lions might have picked up a few more points against Atlanta 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 the 86th minute to ruin what was a pretty good performance by the Lions, despite the dearth of goals. Villalba then scored a stoppage-time tally to rescue a 1-1 draw for Atlanta in the second meeting on July 29, 2017. 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 with a 3-3 draw in Atlanta that 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 1-1-2 on the road this season while Atlanta is 2-1-2 at home. Orlando City is winless in its last two games (0-1-1), while Atlanta has won three consecutive matches, including its last two at home.
Barco has come on strong in 2019 after a disappointing first season in MLS but he’ll miss this match due to U-20 World Cup duty with Argentina. Look for Villalba to replace him and since both have been successful against City, that’s not a drop-off by any means.
Martinez is another obvious nemesis with his hat trick in 2017 and six goals in four games against Orlando (he missed the first two meetings between the teams in 2017). He has four goals and two assists this season. You can’t sleep on Julian Gressel either, as his movement has hurt the Lions in the past. Former Lions Meram and Brek Shea have both had success against Orlando as well.
But Atlanta isn’t just an explosive offense. The team has kept four clean sheets in nine outings this season, including no goals allowed in the last three matches. Atlanta is tied with LAFC for the fewest goals allowed in 2019, although the California team has played two more matches, making for a better overall goals-conceded-per-90-minutes average. Orlando isn’t a very prolific offensive team as this deeper dive illustrated, and the Lions have scored more than one goal only twice in 2019 — once in the opener and once against the Colorado Rapids. Beating Brad Guzan for the first goal might be the key to getting a result.
Orlando City is kicking off three matches in eight days and four in 13, with two of those on the road and just a few days apart. We could see some squad rotation at Atlanta but I’d expect James O’Connor to go all-in at Atlanta and rest some starters at Seattle. Then again, you never know.
The big match-day news is that Nani didn’t travel to Atlanta due to calf inflammation. That’s a huge blow to Orlando’s attack. Defender/midfielder Carlos Ascues and defender Alex De John are both listed as questionable with hamstring issues but Ascues suffered a setback with a quad muscle last week. De John, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, is much more likely to be available than the Peruvian. Atlanta will be missing Barco as well as George Bello (adductor), Kevin Kratz (calf), former Lion Mikey Ambrose (knee), and Brandon Vazquez (knee).
Mandatory Match #Content
Here's your mandatory match content:
- Our Intelligence Report provides more info about the Five Stripes from Sydney Hunte 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 Paul Tenorio from The Athletic.
- I wrote about the importance of the Atlanta game in the greater scheme of Orlando’s difficult May fixture schedule.
- Our Jenn Glasheen looked at the anxiety involved in planning and taking a road trip to Atlanta to watch Orlando City.
Orlando City (3-5-2)
Goalkeeper: Brian Rowe.
Defenders: Kamal Miller, Alex De John, Robin Jansson.
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho, Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, Sebas Mendez, Ruan.
Forwards: , Dom Dwyer, Tesho Akindele.
Bench: Greg Ranjitsingh, Kyle Smith, Shane O’Neill, Dillon Powers, Josué Colmán, Benji Michel, Chris Mueller.
Atlanta United (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Defenders: Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson, Franco Escobar.
Defensive Midfielders: Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi.
Attacking Midfielders: Hector Villalba, Pity Martinez, Julian Gressel.
Forward: Josef Martinez.
Bench: Alec Kann, Brek Shea, Florentin Pogba, Justin Meram, Jeff Larentowicz, Dion Pereira, Romario Williams.
Ref: Rubiel Vazquez.
AR1: Corey Rockwell.
AR2: Eric Boria.
4th: Tim Ford.
VAR: Kevin Stott.
AVAR: Logan Brown.
How to Watch
Match Time: 2:30 p.m. ET.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA.
TV: FOX, FOX Deportes.
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), La Nueva 990 (Spanish).
Streaming: FOX Sports GO.
Match Thread Rules
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Enjoy the match! Go City!