Good news, the Gold Cup break is over, well except for Cyle Larin (which is still good news)! The Atlanta United Football Club will play its next two matches against the Orlando City Soccer Club in a lovely quirk of MLS scheduling. Most other leagues around the world avoid this sort of thing, but Major League Soccer isn’t most other leagues. Perhaps this is in an effort to shoehorn a rivalry down south and maybe it will work. Southerners love denigrating their neighbors in Florida and the Orlando fans are happy to oblige by providing ample material to disparage.
Atlanta is riding a three game winning streak and takes on an Orlando City Soccer Club side who no doubt welcomed the Gold Cup break. After winning six of their first seven games, OCSC looked poised to have a dominant MLS season. Since the end of April, things have taken a downward turn as the team has dropped like a log down a flume ride at Rodent-town. In the 13 games that followed the team lost six, won just two, and drew five. 11 points in 13 games has OCSC hovering above the redline in 5th place. Atlanta United will look to go to Orlando, with a game in hand, looking to put distance between them and the second best soccer team in the Orange State.
Here’s what to watch for as Atlanta travels to the barren wasteland of central Florida.
Old and Slow vs Young and Fast
To begin the year it seemed like Orlando City would be the class of the league. They looked like they had resolved the defensive issues they had the past few seasons with the addition of Jonathan Spector and Donny Toia, Joe Bendik seemed to have turned a corner in goal, and Will Johnson joining the team linked the attack and defense. Even Antonio Nocerino appeared to have redeemed himself in the holding midfield role. Things looked good.
But then Orlando became a town where dreams do not come true, strength turned to weakness and rather than sipping champagne Orlando has gone back to glugging swamp water. Somewhere around the match in Houston on April 29th, teams realized that Orlando was old and slow and that attackers could just run past their midfielders causing the backline to lose its shape. This began the 13 game fade down the table where the team has earned 11 points and looks bound to have a repeat of its first two seasons when it missed the playoffs.
Atlanta United has shown that it can pick apart teams who try to sit back and absorb pressure like they did against San Jose and Colorado. The Five Stripes will also take teams on in a track meet as Tito Villalba showed the Columbus Crew in Ohio a few weeks ago. This team is young and fast and if Orlando hasn’t figured out how to regain its early season form, the Five Stripes will run all over them.
Orlando City will be missing the player who has scored nearly 40% of their goals this year as Cyle Larin is with the Canada Men’s National Team in the Gold Cup. 40% sounds like a lot, but Orlando hasn’t scored that many goals all year so that’s just 8 balls in the net for the striker. No other player has more than four goals on the team and as a result they have a -7 goal differential.
Perhaps this is the result of Jason Kries endlessly tinkering with his lineups in an effort to squeeze the last of the good soccer that is left in Kaka or maybe the team just doesn’t have an alternative in attack other than kick it to Larin and hope something good happens. In any case, they aren’t scoring goals but that doesn’t mean the game won’t be a challenge for Atlanta United.
Brad Guzan will be the third different goalkeeper United is starting in as many matches. He joins the team on a shortened week of practice with limited time to get accustomed to his new teammates. That said, he will be an upgrade from Kyle Reynish who would have most likely started in place of the injured Alec Kann.
Something that the one United defender noted was a difference in the playing style between Guzan and Kann is that the USMNT netminder is a “talking machine.” While there will be an adjustment period as the defenders get used to their new keeper, communication will be key in what will be a loud and unrestrained environment in Orlando on Friday night.
A Floridaman Atmosphere
Orlando City may be playing some awful soccer as of late, but that hasn’t dampened the spirits of the team’s supporters. These gifs have some mildly NSFW hand gestures and the like, but I couldn’t find any of their fans acting with any sort of decorum.
Just look at these ardent supporters who traveled to Sandy, Utah so they could actually see their team win:
Orlando City fans continue on with providing great gifs this season pic.twitter.com/bTcXEm7zgt— Chris (@maize_rage) July 1, 2017
These fans telling everyone who number one is:
They save their true class for the battlefield of the internet though. Apparently because everyone prefers to keep swamp animals as pets in Orlando, they hate dogs:
Atlanta United should be ready for whatever they hear, smell, or see on Friday from the stands. The Five Stripes have been drawing nearly double the capacity of Orlando City Stadium and Bobby Dodd gets as loud as any of the best soccer stadiums in the world. If Atlanta can maintain their composure and come back from any challenges that arise through the course of the match, their talent and skill should get the team a point on the road with a good chance to steal three away from home.