One of the most anticipated matches of the season will come to Orlando City Stadium on Friday night as Atlanta United comes to town to play Orlando City after the Gold Cup break. Both teams started the season on great form, then both hit a slump a couple of months into the year. The difference is that Atlanta has seemed to find their legs and get back toward the form they had at the start of the season, winning their last 3 in a row and 4 out of the last 6 matches (4 - 2 - 0), while Orlando City still seem to be trying to dig out the funk they fell into during May, winning only one of their last six (1 - 2 - 3).
The good news for both teams is that they find themselves above the line going into the match, with Atlanta in 4th place on 30 points, and Orlando City in 6th only a single point behind them on the table. The bad news for both teams is that seventh place Columbus Crew sits on 28 points, so the team that loses this match could well find themselves below the red line after the rest of the weekend's MLS action.
Players to Watch
Atlanta United have so far produced more fireworks on the pitch, scoring 39 goals through their first 19 MLS league matches, and those goals have come from many different feet. Josef Martinez leads the team with 9 goals on the season, while Miguel Albiron and Hector Villalba have each scored 8, and there are no fewer than four more players who have scored at least two goals each. And USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan recently joined Atlanta United during the secondary transfer window, just before leading the USA to win their group and advance to the knockout round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Meanwhile Orlando City have scored only 22 goals in 20 MLS matches, and they have relied on far fewer players to get the ball into the net. Cyle Larin is the team leader with 8 goals on the season, while Carlos Rivas (4), Kaka (3), and Will Johnson (2) are the only other multi-goal scorers on the roster. And as the luck of the Gold Cup draw would have it, Cyle Larin will be missing from the roster on Friday night, as he is playing with Canada in their Gold Cup match on Thursday night. And of course in goal it's always entertaining to watch Orlando keeper Joe Bendik make another MLS Save of the Week stop--though fans would be just as happy if he had a boring match from time to time.
If you simply look at the stats, it seems like Atlanta United may have an edge coming into the match, since Orlando City's leading scorer will be out of the lineup due to International Duty. But both teams have had a long layoff during the Gold Cup break, as Atlanta has not played since Independence Day and Orlando City has not played since July 5. And both teams will dearly want to win this match to give themselves some breathing room away from the red line. And the setting also favors the home side. Both teams play far better on their home pitch, with Orlando City holding a 6 - 2 - 3 record at Orlando City Stadium, while Atlanta United only has a 3 - 5 - 3 record away from Bobby Dodd Stadium this season.
I think with the position on the table, Orlando City will be playing with slightly more resolve to keep their streak of being in a playoff position alive through the season, and that will help them win an important but typical victory. I think Orlando City wins it 2 - 1 and sets up a very interesting rematch the following week in Atlanta.
What is your prediction on the match? Do you think Orlando City will be able to find the resolve to win the match on Friday night, or do you think Atlanta will burst out of the Gold Cup break and steal 3 points on the road? Let me know in the comments below!