Orlando City heads up north to take on rival Atlanta United FC tomorrow night, and the race for second in the Eastern Conference continues. If Orlando City hopes to maintain its spot above Nashville, three points on the road will be crucial. What do the Lions need to do to defeat Atlanta and pick up three points on the road?
Big Game from the Grinch
Pedro Gallese is playing in Peru’s match against Brazil tonight, and as such won’t be available for Orlando City’s match Friday night. With Mason Stajduhar out recovering from surgery, Adam Grinwis will get his second start since returning to Orlando. Despite allowing two goals against the Columbus Crew, Grinwis played well. With a first-choice back line in front of him consisting of João Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Antônio Carlos, and Ruan, he is as protected as any keeper in the league. He’ll need to play well again and get help from his friends.
Bite in the Midfield
Gallese isn’t the only one missing for the Lions. Sebas Méndez is out on international duty, though he hasn’t been featuring, and Júnior Urso is suspended for yellow card accumulation. Fortunately, Uri Rosell and Andrés Perea should be available, as well as recent midfield stalwart Joey DeZart. DeZart has played himself into a solid player for Orlando City with the usual starters out. He has been a big part of Orlando’s seven match unbeaten streak.
Atlanta’s midfield is no joke and how Orlando City is able to handle the pressure and maintain possession will be important. Ezequiel Barco is as dangerous as an attacking midfielder that MLS has to offer. Without first choice midfielders, Méndez and Urso, on the pitch, the others need to step up to defeat a rival. Depth is important for a late playoff run.
Help for Dike
Daryl Dike dropped back into Orlando City’s starting lineup, contributed a goal of the week contender, and added an assist to boot. The return of Orlando City’s first-choice striker to the starting lineup is a good thing, but he can’t do it alone. Well, he can, as we saw last week, but it would be better if he gets service from Silvester van der Water, Chris Mueller, or Nani on the wings. Slick passes from Mauricio Pereyra through the middle are also important. Many have bemoaned the Lions lack of scoring, but Dike will need help if Orlando City is to defeat Atlanta tomorrow night.
Help doesn’t just come in the form of assists, but also by creating space for Dike with their own scoring attempts and hopefully goals. Nani is Orlando’s leading scorer, and Pereyra’s return to form was evident last match. Those threats, coupled with whatever van der Water and Mueller are able to contribute, will hopefully be enough to allow Dike to wreak havoc on Atlanta’s defense.
Those are the things I’ll be looking for Friday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.