Just when we thought that this season was all wrapped up and set in the history books, Atlanta United has given us a glimmer of hope in the form of Juanjo freakin’ Purata who scored a hat-trick on Saturday to secure three much-needed points for the Five Stripes. Now, we’re down to the last 4 games – 12 possible points to make up a 5-point deficit and claim a playoff spot. Atlanta’s next chance to get 3 points is on Wednesday as it travels to face its bitter rival, Orlando City SC.
Orlando started off the season pretty well, reaching as high as 3rd in the East around midseason. It took a tumble in MLS play in mid-July that saw Oscar Pareja’s men suffer a run of 2 draws and 3 losses, even dropping below the playoff line for a bit. However, they managed to right the ship after going on a 4-game win streak where they outscored opponents 8-4. Then, the cherry-on-top came last week as the Lions claimed the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the first title in the club’s history. Now, they’ll be looking to secure their place in the playoffs sitting dangerously at 5th in the East with 42 points in 29 games.
Although Orlando’s attack isn’t as prolific as that of some of the other teams in the league, it’s nothing to scoff at. Striker Ercan Kara tops the charts with 9 goals and 2 assists followed by Facundo Torres (6g, 7a), Junior Urso (4g, 4a), and Alexandre Pato (3g, 5a). Five Stripe fans may also remember Mauricio Pereyra (1g, 6a) who denied Atlanta 3 points with a free kick goal when Orlando last came to town. Defensively, the team is decent. It’s 8th in clean sheets this season with 8 and has allowed 45 goals, 7th least in the East.
Atlanta put on a good show at home against Toronto, but can they replicate it on the road? We’re in the home stretch now, so the margin of error is starting to look paper-thin. Atlanta can’t afford to give up many more points.
Predicted Starting XIs
McBlunder’s Henry’s Prediction: Orlando City 2-3 Atlanta United
Yes, the craziness from Saturday night may still be giving me a bit of a bias (my voice hasn’t fully recovered yet either). But if Atlanta can bring back the energy and momentum shown against Toronto, they can get a result from this game. Another Purata header from a corner kick and an Almada brace will carry the Five Stripes past the Lions.