Preview: Atlanta United (a).
When? Friday September 10, 4 p.m. PT and 7 p.m. ET and 00:00 BST (11/9).
Where? Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA.
How can I catch the action? MLS Live on Fox Sports 1 and DAZN. The match is also being broadcast on radio via FM 96.9 The Game, Accion 97.9 FM and 810 AM. The game is being broadcast on FreeSports for us UK folk (FreeView channel 64 and via the FreeSports app).
Are we really doing this again? Whilst I love nothing more than rubbing Atlanta's faces in the proverbial dirt otherwise known as mediocrity, the frequency of these games is becoming a little tiresome. Just like all the anti-Rey stuff in the Star Wars fandom. Change the record folks, a girl has a lightsaber, get a grip. Anyway regardless of this being our 9,000th match against the Plastics this season, the prospect of picking up a dub in front of a full(ish) NFL arena is still an enticing prospect. Even if we could do with a break from one another. I firmly believe that you can have too much of a good thing. You know the phrase 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'? Well, in regards to rivalry games, I do think 'absence increases general animosity, in the heart, towards ones rivals'. Or somet like that my duck, as we say in Nottingham. Speaking of ducks, has anyone seen Pato? Asking for a friend/Pato fan boy (me).
All that being said, this game is still a mouth watering prospect. Rob Valentino's successful interim spell in charge has the Plastics dreaming of a top 7 finish. A run of 4 consecutive victories was halted by Nashville in Gonzalo Pineda's first game in charge. The 2-0 defeat left Atlanta languishing in 9th place. The 5 shites... Damn it! Stripes, are only 3 points further back, however. With many of the top 7 having favourable fixtures this game week, there's an opportunity for Orlando to deal a hammer blow to Atlanta's play off hopes, whilst strengthening their own position.
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Atlanta United's style
I think it's fair to say this season has been something of a mess for Atlanta United. As a result, it's difficult to fully ascertain exactly what this team is about. Their new era under Gonzalo Pineda didn't exactly get off to a wonderful start. They played well, though. It's not as if Nashville came and stomped on them; Atlanta had 61% of the overall play, and recorded an XG of 1.69. They were a Josef Martinez header away from snatching a dramatic point. One of their big troubles all season has been their inability to keep clean sheets. After all, they've conceded in 77% of their games so far this season (figure 1). Crucially, they've conceded in 6 of their 10 home games, and have failed to score in 4 of them. Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn't exactly the fortress it used to be.
In terms of their actual playing style, as difficult it is to know how Atlanta will play under Gonzalo Pineda, their approach to his 1 game in charge was consistent with what we have seen so far in 2021. Atlanta are a conservative side; 44% of their play so far this season has been in the middle third, and only 25% in the offensive third. Against Nashville, only 29% of their overall play was in Nashville's defensive third. This team has also placed a heavy focus on attacking down the flanks, utilising the likes of George Bello and Brooks Lennon. So far this season, 36% of their attacks have been down the left, and the same number on the right. Against Nashville, 33% went down the left, and 37% the right. The full-backs on both squads are going to be integral in deciding the outcome of this match.
Figure 1 shows Atlanta's XG stats on the season so far.
Figure 2 shows Atlanta's attack sides and action zones on the season so far.
According to the MLS injury report Atlanta are expected to be without Emerson Hyndman, Mo Adams, Jake Mulraney, Franco Ibarra and Santiago Sosa. Atlanta are expecting some of their international contingent to be back in time. So for now, I'm treating the next segment as though they are available. I have a hunch, contrary to some reports, they'll play.
Orlando City, meanwhile, are expected to be without Sebas Mendez and Pedro Gallese, as they conclude their international commitments on the 9th and 10th. Alexandre Pato is out, whilst Andres Perea, Mauricio Pereyra and Uri Rosell are all listed as questionable. All 3 were involved against Columbus, however so they should feature.
Possible starting XI
Atlanta has used the same starting XI in each of their last 2 games, and given that they've had 14 days off, I would be surprised if we saw any changes, unless Bello and Robinson aren't back on time, but I hear the belief is they will be. Josef is a little more questionable, but if he heads straight back can they afford not to start him? I think he'll play, personally. As such I think we will see exactly the same line-up, which is as follows:
Josef 'Dead Beat Dad' Martinez. The self titled 'Daddy of Orlando City' has yet to show up or pay his child maintenance. He's like that dad that sees his kid once every few months, and that one time when he says he will show up, he rocks up 3 hours late with a gas station gift and leaves 30 minutes later. Waster. With 6 goals in 15 MLS games and an average of 0.52 goals per game, I'm not going to get my hopes up about 'Daddy' finally showing up. In all seriousness though, he's clearly the dangerman for Atlanta; his record of 28 goals in 32 games in 2019 speaks for itself. On his day he's one of the most fearsome strikers in CONCACAF. The trouble is, he hasn't had his day all that much in 2021. Let's hope that trend continues along with his questionable hairstyles.
By the way, just for your enjoyment, see the Tweet below from our very own social media legend, Mike:
Atlanta United's resurgence under Rob Valentino was abruptly brought to a halt with their 0-2 scoreline against Nashville. Their overall 6-9-7, has them sat outside the play off places heading down the stretch.
Orlando's 10-8-4 record has them ideally placed in 2nd, though they are someway off the conference leaders, New England Revolution. Orlando are looking to make it 8 straight games undefeated in the NFL arena.
*All statistics courtesy of footystats.org, mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.
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