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Predicting Atlanta United’s starting lineup at Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup

One potential storyline takes a backseat to another.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When Atlanta United last played a match at Orlando City’s home field of Exploria Stadium, it was August 25 of last year, a match where Josef Martinez just so happened to break the MLS single-season scoring record with his 28th goal. Since then, Martinez’s collection of pointed quotes (“fathering” Orlando, it being his second home, etc.) has further fanned the flames of the rivalry, especially with the two teams meeting tonight with a trip to the U.S. Open Cup finals on the line. Needless to say, although Atlanta has never lost to Orlando, doing so this evening - especially with its poor road form - would ignite the fanbase anew and erase any goodwill it earned with its 3-0 win at home over the LA Galaxy

Hang on. Josef Martinez isn’t playing tonight?

Huh. That makes it a little tougher. At least Ezequiel Barco is healthy and Tito Villalba should be in the 18...

Anyway, here’s the projected starting XI.

The obvious thing to take note of is who’s at striker because, ideally, a fully healthy Tito Villalba or Brandon Vazquez would start up top. (Brandon Vazquez, by the way, is the club’s all-time leading scorer in the U.S. Open Cup with 6.) With Vazquez out and Villalba presumably not ready to start right away, Meram is the choice. Of course, Meram and Orlando City’s have...well...a pretty frosty relationship, so he should be motivated to take this opportunity.

Thoughts on the lineup? Let me know in the comments.