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Prekrap: Atlanta United at Orlando City

The Supporters’ Shield race is on

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Montreal Impact Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United got back in the win column with a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Crew on Sunday. The team seems to have Gregg Berhalter’s team figured out as they excercise another ghost from the 2017 season. The game was a dominant win for Atlanta and saw Josef Martinez equal the MLS single season scoring record and get Miguel Almiron back in scoring form. The win also equaled the number of victories the Five Stripes recorded in 2017 and gives them 51 points on the year, just four shy of their total last season. The Five Stripes are also unbeaten in their last six games and a win this weekend could give them more daylight between their two closest Supporters’ Shield rivals.

And we thought Orlando would be good

Remember the pre-season? Remember when we saw Orlando City completely rebuild their backline, add striker depth, get an exciting winger, and add a giant adult crybaby to the roster? We thought this team looked pretty good right? That they might even threaten for a playoff spot... Ah, how great it is to be wrong.

For all of their new additions and changes what Orlando City has done this season actually has been remarkable. Jason Kreis seemed like he got the changes dialed in right as Orlando took off with six wins in its first nine games. But then they played Atlanta United and the roller-coaster fell off of the tracks. Since losing to Atlanta back in May, Orlando has one win, the team fired their coach, and their fans hurled so much abuse at Justin Meram that he was traded back to Columbus in a move that was a net loss for the team.

As far as what to expect out of Orlando this week, well it seems like they are still sorting out how to not completely embarrass themselves on the field under their new manager James O’Connor. That’s been difficult because the team still has Will Johnson on the roster - a player capable of world class rage faces and comedy turnovers during open net breakaways. For the most part, Orlando will try to contain the Atlanta attack and break forward to get Dom Dwyer chances to score. They will probably have a hard time doing that first item as the team has allowed 57 goals in 24 games and is allowing an average of three goals a game over their last four matches.

Road form

Soccer is hard as TiotalFootball likes to say. Atlanta United has experienced this at home this year as the team has been subject to public transportation soccer from some of the worst teams in the league that have been moderately successful in their endeavors. On the road though, Atlanta has been fairly unstoppable. With teams more apt to try and play an open style at home to go for all three points, the Five Stripes have found space and gotten results away from MBS this year. Their 7-2-2 record is the best in MLS and has relieved some of the pressure from the four home draws on the year.

With Ezequiel Barco back from suspension, Tata Martino will have to decide how to work him into the lineup. Eric Remedi seems to have claimed a spot in the center of the pitch alongside Jeff Larentowicz, Tito Villalba owns Orlando City, but Julian Gressel is second on the team in assists. Deciding who to sit will not be an easy task, but the plus side is that Villalba or Gressel or even Barco coming off of the bench is a terrifying prospect for an opposing manager.

At this point, the tactics Atlanta will use won’t be much of a surprise. The Peachtree Press will make things difficult for Orlando in attack, try to generate chances on transition, and leave Will Johnson screaming into the night like a Florida Skunk Ape desperately seeking a rodent for sustenance. Meanwhile, the team will need to contain Dom Dwyer. While OCSC has been awful at defending, their scoring record has gotten better as of late and Dwyer is sitting on 11 goals with three scored in his last three matches. The Five Stripes will also have to attempt to not let Sacha Kljestan have any chances to miss another penalty.

Who knows, if Atlanta wins again maybe the Orlando players will decide to stop fighting each other, give up soccer, start a boy band, move the team back to Austin and #SaveTheCrew. Aside from an Atlanta win, none of that seems all that likely though.