It’s been over a year since Atlanta United and Orlando City last took the field together, both on and off the field. Each team has a new coach after the dismissals of Frank de Boer and James O’Connor, while there’s been plenty of roster turnover in both camps as well. One thing that has remained, at least for now, is Atlanta’s unbeaten record against its Floridian neighbors. That could very easily change, however.
Orlando has followed up its incredible run to the MLS is Back final with an up and down stretch of games against the two expansion sides. The Lions first fell to a 2-3 defeat against Inter Miami, but a 3-1 win over Nashville righted the ship. That win saw Orlando jump all the way into 4th in the East. Although there have been plenty seasons that have started well, only to soon fizzle out, this time seems different. Oscar Pareja has instilled an identity in Orlando that hasn’t always been there, while the squad is also much more complete this time around. Nani, Chris Mueller, and rookie forward Daryl Dike provide the goods up front, while Mauricio Pereyra is proving his worth in the center of the pitch. In the back, new signing Pedro Gallese is living up to his high expectations in goal, although the backline hasn’t been at its best so far, conceding the 4th highest total in the East.
Atlanta, on the other hand, got off to a bright start under interim manager Stephen Glass with a 2-0 win over Nashville SC. Orlando, though, is a level or two above the Tennessean side, as Wednesday’s result showed. Although Saturday won’t be anything like an ultimatum for the current roster, Atlanta will get a good look at where and what its weak spots are against a team with the quality that Orlando possesses. Now excuse me while I go and wash my keyboard for the next half-hour after writing that. Unfortunately, however, its true this year, and Atlanta have to be the underdogs Saturday, if only slightly.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 1-1 Orlando City
Orlando may be favored, but Atlanta will definitely be able to hold its own. I expect an entertaining, if low scoring draw, although the rivalry flair that we’ve become used to in this fixture may be absent along with the fans.