Fresh off a nervy 1-0 win over Alajuelense to book a spot in the Concacaf Champions League quarter-finals, Atlanta is thrown right back into the thick of action this weekend. The Five Stripes visit Orlando City Saturday to kick off the 2021 MLS Regular Season. To mark the occasion, Ben Miller from The Mane Land stopped by to give us the run-down on Atlanta’s southern neighbors. A big thanks to Ben for his time!
Q: One of the biggest storylines in American soccer is regarding Orlando’s own Daryl Dike. The 20-year-old striker is tearing it up on loan at Barnsley in the Championship. Is a permanent move to Europe imminent? How will Orlando replace him?
A: A move to Europe is 100% imminent. At this point the only unknowns are when exactly a move will take place and where he’ll be going. But make no mistake, Dike won’t be in Orlando very much longer. He’ll be replaced by committee. Alexandre Pato was signed during the offseason and hasn’t had any problem scoring in preseason games, so between him, Nani, Chris Mueller, Benji Michel, and Tesho Akindele the Lions will look to replace the goals he brings. What won’t be so easy to replace is the physical presence that he has on the field, Orlando understandably doesn’t have another player like him just lying around.
Q: What were Orlando’s moves in the transfer market during the off season? Any surprises?
A: I mentioned Alexandre Pato, he and winger Silvester van der Water were Orlando City’s two big offseason signings, with goalkeeper Brandon Austin also coming in from Tottenham on loan. Van der Water is someone who the Lions had previous interest in, so securing his services wasn’t too surprising, especially when you take Nani’s age into consideration. Pato was a signing that pretty much nobody expected or saw coming, we assumed that OCSC wanted to bring in some help at striker but his name wasn’t the first one that jumped to mind. However, as I said earlier he settled well in preseason and recorded 3 goals and 2 assists in the five games he played in. Obviously preseason doesn’t really mean anything, but its an encouraging sign nonetheless.
Q: What would a successful 2021 look like for the Lions? What are your expectations?
A: A successful season would at minimum see OCSC match its fourth place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2020. However, it would be nice to see the team built on what it achieved last year and rise at least one spot in the standings, which I think its capable of doing. The team has good depth across the board everywhere except fullback, which is an area which definitely concerns me. It’s possible goals get a bit tougher to come by assuming Dike leaves before the season is over, but I think the Lions have enough top to bottom talent to finish third this year and win a playoff game or two.
Q: And finally, how do you see Saturday’s season opener playing out? Who comes out on top in the latest edition of the Atlanta/Orlando rivalry?
A: This one is kind of tricky for me. Orlando will be boosted by playing at home in front of a stadium at 50% capacity but will be without Mauricio Pereyra and Joao Moutinho, which are two pretty big losses. However, I’m going to be optimistic and say that the Lions take this one 2-1, albeit with Josef Martinez bagging his customary goal at Exploria Stadium.