Welcome to your match thread for a Friday night match-up between Orlando City (10-4-8, 38 points) and Atlanta United (6-7-9, 27 points) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s the third of three scheduled meetings between the two MLS Eastern Conference rivals this season and the only one in Atlanta.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of tonight’s match.
The Lions are 3-6-5 in the all-time series against Atlanta in league play and 1-2-3 on the road. However, Orlando is currently riding a six-match unbeaten streak in the series (3-0-3).
The teams last met on July 30 at Exploria Stadium, with the Five Stripes taking the lead twice on goals by Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno, but the Lions not only fought back twice on strikes by Kyle Smith and Silvester van der Water, but Nani scored a late game winner by heading in VDW’s cross in Orlando City’s 3-2 win. The first meeting of the season between the two rivals came on opening day — April 17 — and they played to a 0-0 draw. It was an evenly matched game, with each team firing 11 shots and getting three on frame.
The final meeting last season came on Oct. 28, 2020, when Orlando City ran away with a 4-1 win over Atlanta at Exploria Stadium. Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele, and Matheus Aias — his first in MLS — scored the goals for the Lions, with Cubo Torres preventing a shutout with an 87th-minute goal for the visitors. Prior to that, the teams met in Atlanta on Oct. 7 of last year and played to a 0-0 draw. Robinho and Nani each hit the woodwork and Brad Guzan stood on his head to prevent Orlando from taking a deserved three points in that one, while Brian Rowe held down the fort at the other end to earn a shutout in Pedro Gallese’s absence.
Back on Sept. 5, 2020, a late, unforced turnover by Kamal Miller led to Adam Jahn’s 92nd-minute tying goal that offset a Benji Michel goal in a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium. Orlando City finally got on the board in the series against Atlanta United with a 3-1 win on the road on Aug. 29 of last year. Junior Urso, Mueller, and Nani supplied the offense to more than counter a Brooks Lennon headed goal. That three-goal explosion snapped a three-match scoreless streak against the Five Stripes for Orlando.
Orlando City created an incredible 17 scoring chances on Aug. 23, 2019, yet finished none of them in a 1-0 home loss. Josef Martinez scored the game’s only goal in the second half. Only 17 days earlier at Exploria Stadium, Orlando also failed to score and lost 2-0, getting bounced from the U.S. Open Cup in the semifinals. On Mother’s Day of 2019, Atlanta United claimed a 1-0 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Pity Martinez scored the goal.
Atlanta won at the stadium then known as Orlando City Stadium on Aug. 24, 2018 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 only 16 minutes remaining in normal time.
Atlanta easily claimed the June 30, 2018 meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 4-0. Josef Martinez and Barco scored a goal apiece and Miguel Almiron added a brace. Orlando lost the first match-up of 2018, 2-1, 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 Barco doubled the lead before halftime. Justin Meram scored his first goal as a Lion to pull one back, but Orlando could get no closer. The unfortunate ending included a shower of debris coming out of the stands due to dissatisfaction with referee Alan Kelly’s decisions that night.
Hector Villalba’s two late goals in the first two meetings turned what could have been 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 lone score.
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. Josef Martinez’s hat trick spoiled Orlando’s bid to take all three points.
Orlando is coming off a 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew in a wild game last Saturday night. The Lions were dominant in building a 2-0 lead on goals by Dike and van der Water but an own goal early in the second half by Antonio Carlos threw the Crew a lifeline and they gladly accepted it, tying the match just two minutes later on a Miguel Berry goal. Urso lifted the Lions to the win with a nice goal through traffic in the 69th minute. It was Orlando’s seventh straight without a loss in league play (3-0-4).
Atlanta is coming off a 2-0 home loss to Nashville SC on Aug. 28 in the Five Stripes’ most recent match. That was the team’s first loss since the July 30 defeat in Orlando, as Atlanta had gone five straight without a loss (4-0-1). That burst lifted Atlanta United to within three points of the playoff line and new coach Gonzalo Pineda takes over, looking to take the club even higher. Pineda will be the team’s third different bench boss against Orlando this season, joining Gabriel Heinze and Rob Valentino.
The Five Stripes are 4-3-3 at home this season, while Orlando City is 3-3-4 on the road in 2021. However, one of those “road” wins for the Lions came at Exploria Stadium against Toronto FC during the Reds’ COVID-19 exile.
Both teams are missing some key pieces for this game, with the biggest name being Josef Martinez, who could conceivably be in the lineup depending on what time his flight arrived from Venezuela after his national team played at Paraguay last night.
Orlando City’s main focus in this match should be winning battles in the midfield and that will be more difficult with Urso suspended for yellow card accumulation. Uri Rosell and Andres Perea each dressed for Saturday’s game but neither played and it’s fair to assume neither is 90-minute match fit after missing several weeks. Both midfielders last played on Aug. 7 against FC Cincinnati. Joey DeZart is likely to start and perhaps Rosell or Perea will be in the lineup to start with the other coming in as a sub in the second half.
Either way, the midfield will need to try to control Moreno and Luiz Araujo and help keep Barco quiet.
“Atlanta as our next rival, going away and going to play at their place represents another good challenge for us in this run towards making the playoffs,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said in his pre-match press conference Wednesday. “This a situation where we’re coming from a positive result against Columbus and obviously trying to analyze this rival that has changed its head coach and their ideas. Our preparation has been intense, trying to reinforce our concepts and try to keep our manners, but at the same time trying to read Atlanta. Our team is going in with a positive mentality as we get ready for this match.”
The Five Stripes had several key players missing during the international window, but could get Miles Robinson back on short rest after he played in Honduras with the USMNT on Wednesday. George Bello played the first half of that match for the United States, so he may also be able to at least make the team sheet. If Martinez doesn’t play, look for Cubo Torres to take his spot in the lineup.
Orlando will likely be without Pedro Gallese and Sebas Mendez, as both were with their national teams last night in South America. Adam Grinwis is the likely starter in goal for El Pulpo with MLS pool goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh on the bench. In addition to Urso, the Lions will be without Alexandre Pato and Mason Stajduhar, but everyone else should be available. Atlanta lists Santiago Sosa as questionable with a lower body injury, while Emerson Hyndman (torn ACL) and Franco Ibarra (lower body) are out.
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report gives us more on United from Kyle Soto from SBNation’s Atlanta blog, Dirty South Soccer.
- This week’s PawedCast includes our key match-ups and score predictions for the match.
- Dave Rohe wrote about his three keys to victory for the match.
Orlando City (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Adam Grinwis.
Defenders: Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Ruan.
Midfielders: Mauricio Pereyra, Andres Perea, Joey DeZart, Benji Michel.
Forwards: Nani, Daryl Dike.
Bench: Greg Ranjitsingh, Emmanuel Mas, Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Raul Aguilera, Uri Rosell, Chris Mueller, Silvester van der Water, Tesho Akindele.
Atlanta United (5-3-2)
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Defenders: Jake Mulraney, Anton Walkes, Alan Franco, George Campbell, Brooks Lennon.
Midfielders: Mattheus Rossetto, Santiago Sosa, Luiz Araujo.
Forwards: Marcelino Moreno, Ezequiel Barco.
Bench: Alec Kann, George Bello, Alex De John, Mo Adams, Tyler Wolff, Jurgen Damm, Erik Lopez, Machop Chol, Cubo Torres.
Ref: Victor Rivas.
AR1: Peter Balciunas.
AR2: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho.
4th: Nima Saghafi.
VAR: Jair Marrufo.
AVAR: Jozef Batko.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7 p.m.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA.
TV: FS1, FOX Deportes.
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), Accion 97.9 (Spanish), 810 AM.
Streaming: FOX Sports GO.
Enjoy the match. Go City!