Atlanta United is scoring five goals a game, or one score every 18 minutes, in their two matches in Mercedes Benz Stadium. There’s no doubt that that number will come back down to earth, but the last two matches have been fun and history making. The Five Stripes will play in front of nearly 70,000 fans while making MLS history yet again this year. United is riding an eight game home unbeaten streak headed into Saturday as the team looks to further solidify its playoff position against the Orlando City Soccer Club.
As for OCSC, they can’t even win a game without screwing up. FC Steamboat Willie went to the nation’s capital and did something Atlanta United has never done, they beat DC United. While this seems like an impressive feat, it may be more of a Pyrrhic victory for Orlando. In the process of getting their first win since June, the team managed to get three players suspended for the match against Atlanta United.
Orlando City acquired two red cards, first when Servando Carrasco managed to get expelled after coming off of the bench early in the second half and a second wehn Seb Hines treated Lloyd Sam like an OCSC fan treats a bleacher at Bobby Dodd Stadium as the game entered injury time. Finally, Kaka earned a yellow card putting him over the limit for a suspension and he will miss the match this weekend.
With these three missing pieces, Orlando will have to reach toward the end of the bench to field a team. What’s more, if OCSC has any chance of keeping their post-season hopes alive, they must win this game.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for...
I dare Orlando to bunker in this match
Last weekend against DCU, Orlando relied on the long ball to create chances and got two goals by punishing defensive errors. Otherwise, they sat back and waited for DC to try to do something and the Black and Red couldn’t break them down until a late goal. Bunkering is a terrible idea against Atlanta United on this field.
We’ve talked about it before, but the wider field is a huge benefit to the team. In the past two matches against Atlanta, OCSC stayed compact defensively and tried to disrupt United by clogging up the midfield. It didn’t work in both games, but doesn’t mean that City still won’t try to turn the game into a mess in order to try to get a lucky result.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is suspended for the game thanks to getting too many yellow cards at this point in the season. Greg Garza came out at the half against New England with what Tata described as a muscle injury. With his hand forced in this match when it comes to making chances in the back line, Tata has some important decisions to make.
Martino could do anything from swapping his formation and switching to a three man backline to keeping his favored 4-3-3. Anton Walkes could slide into LGP’s spot at center back and Tyrone Mears could start, Bobby Boswell may replace the starting defender, or Jeff Larentowicz may drop into the backline with Chris McCann or Kevin Kratz replacing him. At left back, he has several options, but whoever he slots in will need to replace Garza’s ability at keeping the attack thriving down the left side of the field.
Whatever permutation of his lineup that Tata trots out, the defense will have to keep Dom Dwyer from scoring his first goal in an Orlando uniform and limit Cyle Larin’s chances. With a chance to put OCSC’s playoff hopes at the bottom of Seven Seas Lagoon, the defense will have to limit mistakes and hopefully continue the budding clean sheet streak the team has established.
The fatigue factor
This will be the third game for Atlanta United in six days. Miguel Almiron, Brad Guzan, and Josef Martinez all were with their national teams until last week. While Orlando has had a difficult travel schedule due to Hurricane Irma, the team has had a full week of rest and training since their last match. As for United, the game against New England wasn’t the most physically taxing, especially in the second half, but that is still a lot of soccer for the team in the recent week.
Add to it that the Five Stripes will have just two days between the New England and Orlando game to prepare for the match and the team will need to rely on what they learned about Orlando from their past games for this weekend. With the short week and the toll that fatigue may take on the players, the team will need to be focused on what they need to do and not be as concerned with what Orlando will try to accomplish in the match.
In the end, this is a crucial match for Atlanta. Beating Orlando puts the team as high as third in the table while all but dashing another Eastern Conference opponent’s playoff hopes once and for all.