Preview: Atlanta United (h).
When? Wednesday September 5 at 5.00 p.m. PT, 8.00 p.m. ET and 1.00 a.m. (6/9) GMT.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? Fox, Fox Deportes, Fox 35 Plus and DAZN for residents of the United States and Canada. FreeSports (Freeview channel 64, and in the app) in the United Kingdom. The game is also available via radio locally (check local listings).
One of the best things about the current MLS schedule is the current, intense, fixture list. One week on from Orlando's maiden, beat down, win over Atlanta United they have an opportunity to further stamp their authority. A lot has changed since the weekend. Pity Martinez is on the verge of sealing a big money move to Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia. If reports are to be believed they could also be about to lose Ezequiel Barco to Europa League champions, Sevilla. The 5 stripes are in disarray, and we're all loving it.
Whilst Orlando were battling to a credible 1-1 draw in Nashville, Atlanta laboured to an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Fort Lauderdale. Atlanta were only able to muster 1 shot on target, in another intrepid display by the home team. Yes, that's sarcasm.
Anyone who saw Atlanta's games against Nashville and Orlando, will have noticed how passive this team is when in possession of the ball. It’s almost like they are afraid to try anything too cute, for fear of making a mistake. The only real joy they had, against ourselves, was when they worked the ball wide and got in a cross for Brooks Lennon to score. The rest of Atlanta’s efforts were either from distance, or set pieces. This is probably the least threatening team, from open play, that Atlanta have ever had. But that doesn’t mean they are any less dangerous an opponent. They will be a wounded animal. The stomping we gave them, in their house, will have hurt their professional pride. They will want to put things right at Exploria Stadium come Saturday evening. The presence of fans will undoubtedly give them extra motivation. This will be a difficult game for Orlando, but it’s one that I think we will triumph in.
I believe the game plan will be much the same as before as far as Orlando City are concerned. I do expect the personnel will be different, though. I would expect Nani and Chris Mueller to take the field from the start. Orlando will allow Atlanta to have the ball in their own defensive and middle thirds (figure 1), confident that a slip will come. And that's when Orlando will pounce, and use their pace in wide areas to really do some damage.
Figure 1 shows how, similarly to their performance against Orlando, Atlanta played most of their passes in their own defensive and midfield thirds.
Whilst Atlanta are very conservative in their approach, they do make mistakes when in possession of the ball. They had an 85% pass completion rate in their draw with Fort Lauderdale (figure 2), whilst maintaining just over 60% off the ball. On the face of it, that might seem like something of a monopolisation. But when you consider 3 of their 5 most accurate passers were defenders (Walkes, Robinson and Escobar), it tells you 2 things. Firstly, it tells you just how much time the ball spends in their defensive third. Secondly, it tells you there are going to be ball recovery opportunities in midfield. Especially when you have guys like Hyndman going 33 for 41 on passes. Rosell and co. will have their fingers to the buzzers.
Figure 2 reinforces Atlanta’s lack of penetration, and their ability to concede possession.
I believe Ruan gets the start over Kyle Smith. I spoke, in my review of the last match, about how the inclusion of Kyle Smith was possibly a tactical decision. Aimed at snuffing out space on their left and in the middle. But I think, especially considering the departure of Pity Martinez, there is arguably less of a threat there. Particularly if they stick with the 4-1-4-1 that Stephen Glass opted for against Fort Lauderdale. You’ll notice, from the passing network graphic in figure 3, that their use of the 4-1-4-1 was very similar to our use of the same formation against Nashville. It’s a little more fluid than it looks.
Figure 3 shows Atlanta’s passing network from the draw with Fort Lauderdale.
The 5 shites... sorry, stripes, had Eric Remedi dropping back into the quarterback role. Whilst Matheus Rosetto and Emerson Hyndman (listed as questionable for this game) provided support moving forward. Our 4-2-3-1 should counteract this nicely, however. With Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell (assuming they play) tracking the movements of Rosetto and Hyndman. They may even be more concerned with Nani and Pereyra/Urso doing damage, so one (or both of them) could drop in to help out defensively. That formation could well work in our favour.
For Atlanta, obviously, Josef Martinez continues to be a long-term absentee having picked up that ACL injury back in February. Fernando Mesa is out with an undisclosed injury. There are also doubts surrounding Emerson Hyndman, who has been listed as questionable in the official MLS injury report. Stephen Glass will be hoping the former AFC Bournemouth man is able to prove his fitness, heading into this game.
For Orlando City, Oscar Pareja continues to be without Dom Dwyer. João Moutinho is out of this game, having picked up that injury in the NFL arena last week. Matheus Aiás is also unavailable following his transfer from Watford.
Possible starting XI
I can envisage one particular change for Atlanta, following their 0-0 draw with Fort Lauderdale. I think George Bello comes in for Edgar Castillo at left-back. I think Atlanta will be expecting Mueller and Ruan on the wing for Orlando. So, it would make sense for them to switch for fresher legs in that position. Given that Pity has left, and with how much Adam Jahn has struggled, I don’t think they can afford to make too many changes in other areas.
In the preview for our last encounter, I highlighted that Pity Martinez was the danger man for Atlanta. It turned out he was more of a danger TO Atlanta rather than for them. Especially given how easily he was dispossessed for the 3rd goal. Ezequiel Barco should line-up from the start in this particular game. The 21-year-old has been the subject of transfer speculation himself of late, but he will still suit up for this game. The former Independiente attacker has scored 10 times across 48 appearances so far, for Atlanta. He’s fast, skilful and very intelligent on the ball. He has a high soccer IQ, and is capable of turning games on their head. Orlando will need to keep tabs on him to maintain their chances of victory.
Atlanta head into this game off the back of a 0-0 home draw with Fort Lauderdale, which lifted them to 3-1-4 on the season. Atlanta now face a gruelling 3 game road schedule against ourselves, Fort Lauderdale and Nashville. Stephen Glass's team are currently languishing in 9th place.
Orlando meanwhile are 4-3-2 on the season, having secured a credible draw away at Nashville in midweek. The Lions are 3rd in the east, and are currently 2nd in overall scoring in MLS. I’m just gonna let that hang.
All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com and mlssoccer.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com