Atlanta United’s most frequently played fixture is upon us once again. The Five Stripes are set to host Orlando City this Sunday and to prepare, we checked in with our friends at The Mane Land, Orlando’s SB Nation site. Ben Miller was kind enough to answer my questions on all things Orlando, including how new DPs Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara look, Jake Mulraney’s impact in Florida, and a prediction for the 17th Atlanta/Orlando matchup.
Q: Orlando hasn’t quite found its footing this season. Do you think that’s because of deficiencies in the roster, Pareja’s coaching, or something more?
A: I think it’s down to the roster. There are several areas in which the roster could use some balancing. The Lions could really do with another fullback, but the two big areas of need are another creative midfielder and another winger. To be fair to the front office, their offseason plans went a little awry when new signing Gaston Gonzalez tore his ACL shortly before he was due to join up with the Lions. He would have satisfied the team’s need for another winger, and without him OCSC need a little more offensive firepower.
Q: Orlando lost Nani and Daryl Dike over the offseason and replaced them with Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara. How have the new DPs fared so far?
A: They’ve played well, especially over the last two months. Kara has 7 goals and 2 assists in 19 appearances and Torres has 4 goals and 6 assists in 18 appearances. There was definitely an adjustment period at the start of the season, but they’ve really started to grow into things. With that being said, both have been hampered by the lack of a true threat on the opposite wing from Torres. That deficit has allowed teams to focus attention on Mauricio Pererya and Torres and choke off the service to Kara, something the Lions need to figure out how to fix.
Q: Atlanta traded winger Jake Mulraney to Florida a few months into the season. How has the Irishman looked in purple?
A: He’s been decent, not bad but not anything of great note either. He’s shown a willingness to take guys on and run at the defense that this team needs and he’s provided energy off the bench on a few occasions. He’s made 9 appearances with 5 of those being starts, and his cross caused a 92nd-minute own goal that was the decisive tally in Orlando’s victory over Miami last Saturday. That alone buys him some credit in my book.
Q: What are Orlando’s strengths and weaknesses?
A: Goalkeeper remains a position of strength as Pedro Gallese has continued the good play he’s demonstrated since joining Orlando. New signing Cesar Araujo has also been a revelation in defensive midfield. The U-22 Initiative signing came in and immediately displaced full Ecuadoran international Sebas Mendez, and has been excellent. In Saturday’s win over Inter Miami he made 8 tackles, drew 9 fouls and was generally spectacular.
Q: What does a successful second half of the season look like in Florida?
A: Ideally, Orlando makes at least 1 attacking signing in the summer window who can immediately come in and contribute. (My kingdom for Jesse Lingard) Orlando figures out its struggles in the offensive third, makes the playoffs and advances out of the first round. Will it happen? I think that largely depends on what does or doesn’t happen in the transfer window, and I don’t necessarily have a good feeling about it.
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Sunday?
A: I’m going to say a 1-1 draw for this one.