Here we are. Almost exactly one year after Atlanta United fell to Toronto FC at home in the Eastern Conference final, the Five Stripes’ season looks set to end once more, albeit in drastically different circumstances. A heartbreaking loss to D.C. United has sent the Five Stripes’ playoff hopes teetering on the edge of a cliff, and none other than Orlando City could be the one to apply the final push.
Orlando, however, is in the midst of some struggles of its own. Since Atlanta’s 0-0 draw with the Lions back on October 7th, Orlando is yet to win a game. Following ties versus both New York teams, it succumbed to defeat against Inter Miami Saturday. It’s fallen nine points off the top spot in the East and into 4th, with NYCFC and New England within three points of jumping Orlando into the top four. It’s been attack where Orlando has dipped the most, with just three goals in its last four. For contrast, it had nine tallies in the four matches preceding the Atlanta draw. With four matches left in the campaign, Orlando could still climb up the table into the very top of the East, but if its lapse in form continues Orlando would be in danger of losing home-field advantage in the postseason. A win over Atlanta could be the spark needed to restart the Lions’ season and Oscar Pareja’s men will surely come out with high intensity.
The Five Stripes, meanwhile, fell to 12th and two points below the red line thanks to its loss to DC. The two teams directly above Atlanta, Miami and Chicago, may not have much gentler run-ins, but look ready to grind out results while Atlanta is still stuck on figuring out how to create an expected goals tally greater than 0.50. Losing to Orlando twice in one season would hurt a lot more, though. Since playoffs seem too big an ask, hopefully the Five Stripes at least save some face and manage to leave Florida with a result.
Predicted Starting XIs
Even with its struggles of late, Orlando should cruise to victory, especially at home. I’ll go out on a limb here and say Atlanta’s expected goals will be less than 0.50 once more. Ninety minutes of fun, here we come!