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Atlanta United vs. Orlando City: What to watch for

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Forwards, home field, and intensity

MLS: Atlanta United FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last week Tito Villalba opened a new ride at Disney World called Tito’s ROCKET-SHIP-TO-THE-MOON-THAT-IS-NEVER-GOING-TO-LAND-AND-IS-CURRENTLY-STILL-ORBITING-EARTH, they’re working on the name still but it was the most impressive thing to happen in Central Florida since some middle-schoolers defaced the billboard that Atlanta United put up in Orlando on the Wednesday before the game. OCSC will feel like they missed out on getting a point or three last weekend, and they’re right. City really let their fans and themselves down against United on Friday night. The Five Stripes weren’t that great, Orlando had some really good looks at the goal but the final moment wasn’t there.

Atlanta United, on the other hand, won the match on the type of shot that Wily E. Coyote could never quite get right when hunting the Roadrunner. The team played a new style for coach Tata Martino: successfully bad. Meaning, United didn’t deserve to win but didn’t deserve to lose either. The team got the result despite not playing that well against an opponent who looked disjointed in midfield and was a save from Brad Guzan, who played like the kind of player who is capable of pushing Tim Howard out of the starting role for the U.S. Men’s National Team, away from taking the lead against United. In the end, three points is three points and the last second nature of the win has the markings of the kind of game that fans remember and fuels a rivalry going forward.

But, this is a new week and a new game and the Orlando City Soccer Club has a new player, so here’s what to watch for...

The Dom Dwyer factor

Dom Dwyer does some good things for Orlando City. He is a strong, physical player who beats on defenders, gets under their skin, and makes himself a general bee in the bonnet of any player marking him. Dwyer is basically CONCACAF Diego Costa, either he creates a chance through his own play or wears defenders down enough that they make a mistake he can exploit through his physicality.

However, he does not address the biggest problem that Orlando had and still has: their midfield is old and slow and the ball does not move fast enough in the final third to take advantage of dangerous runs in behind the defense or create space for their goal scorers to turn chances into points. Dwyer is not a game changer for Orlando, their previous strategy was ‘be stout defensively, hope the midfield has a rare sequence when they can string a few passes together, and kick the ball at Larin and hope something good happens;’ the new strategy is bound to be ‘be stout defensively, hope the midfield has a rare sequence when they can string a few passes together, and kick the ball at Larin and Dwyer and hope something good happens.’ To be sure though, Atlanta will have to make sure that when Larin and/or Dwyer get their chances they don’t cost United three points.

Home field advantage

Atlanta United didn’t exactly play well against Orlando City. The attack had trouble breaking down its opposition and the defense played well but OCSC still had their chances, pressing Brad Guzan into a play that won save of the week. Despite that, the team managed to defend well enough to have an opportunity to win the game and a moment of brilliance came along with Tito’s late goal bringing home three points.

Atlanta has played much better at home than on the road, most MLS teams do. The rematch against Orlando City will be an interesting test for the team. While the Five Stripes struggled to take apart defenses earlier in the season, in the past two home games they have faced teams who have tried to absorb pressure, play a physical style on defense, and not allow Atlanta space to create chances for their talented attackers.

The results speak for themselves. Atlanta came away with a 1-0 win against the Colorado Tim Howards and beat San Jose 4-2 in a thrilling match. If United hopes to come away with its fifth straight win, the Five Stripes will have to play better than in the first match between the teams.

Focus and intensity

It has been said before, but Atlanta United tends to lose focus facing opponents they should beat. Now that they are coming home a week after beating Orlando City, they know they should beat this team, the game will have a lot of expectations at home where they’ve been dominant, and Orlando will try really, really hard to overcome not having a midfield that can hold the ball to beat Atlanta.

Luckily, the Five Stripes seem to have turned a corner in that regard. The team beat a cynical Colorado team 1-0 at home and battled for a win after giving up the lead to the San Jose Earthquakes to come away with a 4-2 victory. That said, for Atlanta to come away with a win before embarking on a three game road trip, they will have to continue to overcome their previously extraordinary ability to let games they should win slip through their fingers.