Welcome to your match thread for a Sunday afternoon match-up between Orlando City (10-4-8, 38 points) and Atlanta United (6-7-9, 27 points) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (3 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes). It’s the first of two scheduled meetings between the two MLS Eastern Conference rivals this season and the only one in Atlanta. The Five Stripes will make the return trip to Exploria Stadium on my birthday, Sept. 14.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of today’s match.
The Lions are 3-7-5 in the all-time series against Atlanta in league play and 1-3-3 on the road. Orlando had a six-match unbeaten streak in the series (3-0-3) snapped in the last meeting, in which the Five Stripes won 3-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 10, 2021. George Campbell and Ezequiel Barco scored for Atlanta, sandwiched around a Daryl Dike own goal to hand Gonzalo Pineda his first win as manager for United.
The second of three 2021 meetings took place 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 of 2020 came on Oct. 28, when Orlando City ran away with a 4-1 win over Atlanta at Exploria Stadium. 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, 2020 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, 2020. 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 building 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 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 each scored a goal 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 an Orlando 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 1-1 road draw against the Colorado Rapids. The Lions controlled the first half — a change from several recent outings — and went ahead on a Facundo Torres goal. The Rapids got on the front foot and tortured the Lions’ fullbacks, sending in several dangerous crosses and finally paying one off in the 65th minute when Gyasi Zardes got a foot on one to create the equalizer.
Depending how you look at life, Orlando is either unbeaten in its last two games (1-0-1) or has only won twice in its last eight (2-3-3), and needed an own goal from Miami to get one of those two wins. Both things are true. The Lions have a respectable 3-2-5 road record in 2022 but are just 1-2-3 in their last six since the beginning of May. City has scored one goal or none in five of its last six road matches, so putting the ball in the net has been an issue.
Atlanta enters this match fresh off a 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night. That win snapped a four-match winless skid (0-3-1). For all of Atlanta’s struggles so far this season, the Five Stripes are taking care of business at home, posting a 5-2-3 record in 10 matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.
Atlanta has an aggressive offense that gets forward into the attack. That leads to a lot of shots and scoring opportunities but the team has been vulnerable to the counter. While Orlando has not shown itself to be a particularly dangerous transition team, the Lions will need to look for those chances to take advantage of the counter whenever possible. Orlando City will also need to shore up the wide areas on defense. The fullbacks have not played well in the last few games, and the left side has been a particular issue the last two matches. It might help if Joao Moutinho can return to the lineup for this match, but — not to be that guy — this stadium is where Moutinho suffered a long-term injury in 2020 when the Lions were absolutely balling out. Plastic grass is still the worst.
“Atlanta is a team that has been battling with inconsistencies, which is normal in a league that is very extended,”Head Coach Oscar Pareja said ahead of the match. “It seems like they, like us, are trying to find their balance and trying to find a few games with a win and positioning [themselves] in the highest part of the table. I think we are all in on that duty. [They are] a team that has very crafty players and creative players. [They are] a team that has invested a lot in that talent. We haven’t faced them this year, but we think it is a great opportunity to go to their place and fight for those three points, especially after our two last good results and our growing performance in the last two [matches]. We are getting ready. It is a short period of preparation, as you know, with these games coming too fast, but we are good. We are optimistic like always.”
Orlando City will be without Mason Stajduhar (jaw), while fellow backup Adam Grinwis (upper extremity) joins Moutinho (lower leg) as questionable on the availability report. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been dealing with a lot of injuries. Ozzie Alonso (torn ACL), Dylan Castanheira (achilles), Brad Guzan (achilles), Miles Robinson (achilles), Andrew Gutman (quad), Ronald Hernandez (MCL), Brooks Lennon (MCL), and Emerson Hyndman (quad) are all listed as out.
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report gives more info on United from David McFarland of SBNation’s Atlanta blog, Dirty South Soccer.
- This week’s PawedCast includes our key match-ups and score predictions for the match.
- Our Josh Munsey went inside the numbers in his latest scouting report.
Orlando City (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Kyle Smith, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, Ruan.
Defensive Midfielders: Cesar Araujo, Junior Urso.
Attacking Midfielders: Jake Mulraney, Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres.
Forward: Ercan Kara.
Bench: Adam Grinwis, Joao Moutinho, Michael Halliday, Antonio Carlos, Sebas Mendez, Andres Perea, Benji Michel, Tesho Akindele, Alexandre Pato.
Atlanta United (3-5-2)
Goalkeeper: Rocco Rios Novo.
Defenders: George Campbell, Alan Franco, Juan Jose Purata.
Midfielders/Wingbacks: Caleb Wiley, Mattheus Rossetto, Amar Sejdic, Luiz Araujo, Aiden McFadden.
Forwards: Ronaldo Cisneros, Marcelino Moreno.
Bench: Raul Gudino, Mikey Ambrose, Alex De John, Santiago Sosa, Thiago Almada, Franco Ibarra, Machop Chol, Dom Dwyer, Josef Martinez.
Ref: Victor Rivas.
AR1: Nick Uranga.
AR2: Chris Elliott.
4th: Silviu Petrescu.
VAR: Jorge Gonzalez.
AVAR: Jeremy Hanson.
How to Watch
Match Time: 3 p.m.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA.
TV: ABC, ESPN Deportes.
Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), Accion 97.9 and 810 AM (Spanish).
Streaming: WatchESPN / ESPN3.
Enjoy the match. Go City!