A busy week of soccer continues as Orlando City travels north to take on Atlanta United in the last of three regular season games between the two teams. The Lions will look to make it two wins out of three and stay undefeated against the Five Stripes, who will be in their second game under new coach Gonzalo Pineda.
Atlanta has absolutely put it together since the last time these two teams played. Since that July 30 game, Atlanta has four wins, one draw, and one loss, and is within three points of the final playoff place in the East. How have the Five Stripes done it?
Kyle Soto: I think Rob Valentino is the main man behind that revolution and turn of events in Atlanta. It felt like there were dark clouds surrounding Atlanta United during and immediately after Gabriel Heinze’s time at the club, and Valentino turned that around. The main factor in the Valentino-led turn around was a change in the culture (the vibes, if you will). There hasn’t been a tactical or formational revolution, but the players have definitely performed differently on the field. Now with Gonzalo Pineda at the helm, there might be some more tactical and formational changes. But as of right now, the main difference was the breath of fresh air that Valentino brought in.
Talk to me some about new coach Gonzalo Pineda. How does he differ from Gabriel Heinze and Rob Valentino?
KS: I don’t think we’ve seen enough of Gonzalo Pineda to make any judgments on him as a coach. We need to remember that he was an assistant coach for the Seattle Sounders before taking the Atlanta head coaching job, so there isn’t much out there that gives us insight into the type of coach he will become for Atlanta. He made his managerial debut against Nashville, and he didn’t change much from what Valentino was doing when he was in charge. The team rolled out in what was essentially a 5-1-4, and we saw similar setups under Valentino. However, Pineda implemented a mid-game switch against Nashville, switching his team to a back four. He mentioned in the post match press conference that his team hadn’t trained in that formation at all leading up to that Nashville game, so I think Atlanta fans should expect to see some tinkering and testing when it comes to the formation.
If Atlanta wins this game, what will be the reason? On the flip side, what will be the reason if the Five Stripes lose?
KS: There are always many reasons why a team can win or lose a game, but I think Atlanta will have to manage the game to the best of their abilities. The team is playing at home, but Orlando is still one of the best teams in the East. With so many key players for Atlanta potentially missing because of international commitments and injuries, I think Atlanta will have to play a pragmatic match and pick their moments to go forward. If Atlanta loses, I think the main reason would be Orlando’s individual and team quality, which Atlanta can’t do much about.
Are there any injuries, suspensions or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
KS: Josef Martinez and Ronaldo Hernandez have been with the Venezuelan national team for World Cup qualifying, while Miles Robinson and George Bello have been with the USMNT. I doubt any of those guys will feature in this game because of travel and the compressed schedule (Miles played every minute of qualifying). Atlanta also has a dearth of midfield options, with Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra, Mo Adams and Emerson Hyndman are all out according to the MLS injury report. However, Adams and Ibarra could potentially return against Orlando and give Pineda more depth in the middle of the field. Jake Mulraney is also out according to the report.
Projected Lineup (4-3-3): Brad Guzan; Brooks Lennon, Anton Walkes, Alan Franco, George Bello (this is more of a hopeful shout from me. He didn’t play much in qualifying and Atlanta doesn’t have much depth at left back); Amar Sejdic, Matheus Rossetto, Marcelino Moreno; Ezequiel Barco, Jackson Conway, Luiz Araujo.
Score prediction: 2-1 Orlando win. I think Atlanta will be missing too many key players and are still learning how to Pineda wants them to play.
Big thanks to Kyle for the update on Atlanta. Vamos Orlando!