Well, it’s that time again. Rivalry Week is upon us, and while it may not be the glitziest of the matches this weekend (that honor probably goes to LAFC vs. La Galaxy), Atlanta United vs. Orlando City stands as an important one for both teams. For Atlanta, it’s a chance to keep its spot at the top of the Eastern Conference with a huge showdown at the Philadelphia Union looming next Saturday (following Tuesday’s Open Cup final at the Benz against Minnesota). For Orlando, wins are critical as they look to push for its first-ever postseason slot and break up a logjam at the red line.
We spoke once again with Ben Miller from The Mane Land to see what his impressions were of tonight’s game, how he feels about the offense, and whether or not the Lions can sneak into the playoffs.
1. Going into Friday’s match, Orlando are level on points with Montreal and Toronto FC with 34, but the Impact currently hold that seventh and final playoff spot in the East via tiebreaker as they have 10 wins to Orlando and TFC’s 9 - with the Lions ahead of TFC on goal differential but with TFC having played a match fewer. Orlando certainly need wins down the stretch, but at the end of the day, do you think they are able to get in to the postseason?
Ooof, that’s really the question of the day. To be honest, while my heart says yes, I haven’t seen enough consistency out of this team in 2019 to give me enough confidence to say that they’ll make it in. I think it’s much more likely that the team misses out by a mere four or five points. While I hope the Lions will be able to pull things together and prove me wrong, the realist in me simply doesn’t see it happening. You touched on the broader problem a little bit yourself, lately the Lions have been getting draws when they need wins instead. If that doesn’t change then they’ll be on the outside looking in once again.
2. Michael wrote a piece for you all on Tuesday about Orlando’s lack of offense despite a career season from Tesho Akindele and the play of Nani throughout portions of the year. Is there overall concern among the fanbase that the club won’t shake out of it down the stretch, or are there things you see that might suggest that it is about to turn the corner?
For my part I’m certainly concerned that things won’t change. As I mentioned earlier there hasn’t really been substantial signs to suggest otherwise. The one glimmer of hope comes in the form of new signing Mauricio Pererya, who debuted for the club during the second half of the Lions 1-1 draw with Minnesota United. Pererya brought a lot of what Orlando has been missing in terms of more energy and creativity through the midfield. If he can hit the ground running then its very possible things will come together for the team. Thus far though I simply haven’t seen enough of him yet to be able to say with any confidence whether that will end up happening. Long story short, I’m concerned yet (very ) cautiously optimistic.
3. What matchup can the Lions exploit if it is able to get that elusive first win against Atlanta, and make things a little more uncomfortable on the visitors as the Five Stripes head into a huge league match on Labor Day weekend against the Philadelphia Union?
Rather than a specific matchup, I’ll identify the center of midfield as an area that Orlando absolutely needs to control if it wants to get a win on Friday. When these two teams last met in the Open Cup Atlanta was dancing through the center of the field at will, with Orlando not able to do much to stop them. From where I was standing in The Wall, that played a large part in Atlanta getting off 15 shots, as well as putting seven of them on goal. If the Lions don’t win the battle in the middle of the park then it could end up being a very long night for them. Should the Lions manage to control things in that area, though, it could lead to the type of quality chances that Orlando hasn’t been getting a ton of in recent weeks. For me, that’s where the game lives and dies for them this week.