Preview Atlanta United (h).
When? Friday July 30 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET and 1 a.m. BST (31/7).
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN Deportes for residents of the United States, and on TSN5. The game is also available via radio locally on FM 96.9 The Game, Accion 97.9 and 810 AM. The game is being broadcast on FreeSports (FreeView channel 64 and via the FreeSports app) for us UK folk.
I firmly believe that the best thing for us all to do, as a collective, is to forget what happened last week and never speak of it, ever again. What happened last week? I hear you say. Exactly, well played. It'll be like when you ask any USWNT fan what happened against Sweden at the Olympics? Huh? Or like when you ask a Star Wars fan about Rian Johnson. What are you talking about? Never. Happened.
This is going to be a tough game against the 5 shi... Damnit, sorry I can't help it. The 5 stripes, there we go. Former Orlando City hero Rob Valentino is in charge of Atlanta right now, and he'll surely have them fired up for this game. The returning 'daddy' will want to show that he's still got it. The Venezuelan striker has yet to get going, in 2021. And when I say yet to get going, I mean, he's not going at all. His engine cut out somewhere along OBT:
It's difficult to really brand this Atlanta side right now, which isn't atypical of a team without a manager. They've been accused of not being adventurous enough, and it's easy to see why. So far this season, they've scored only 14 goals, which is the 3rd worst record in the league. Only Austin FC and Fort Lauderdale have scored less. Only 7 players have entered double digits in terms of shots on goal for the season, and 2 of those players are away this week (see figure 1).
In addition to not being particularly adventurous, they're also not particularly good at converting said shots. Only 1 player has broken double digits for shots of frame; Marcelino Moreno with 13. Coincidentally (or not) he also leads the team in goals with 3. Josef Martinez is 2nd with 2, as is Anton Walkes (figure 2). other Atlanta player has scored more than once. They've scored 8 in their last 10, and 1 in their last 3. This isn't the Atlanta of 2018 or 2019. This will still be a tricky game, but they have clear limitations in attack, particularly if Orlando get the defensive side of the game right. Shut up, nothing happened in New York. It was all yellow taxis and snow at Christmas. Shh.
Figure 1 show Atlanta's team shooting statistics.
Figure 2 shows Atlanta's team scoring statistics.
Much like ourselves, Atlanta United have a number of absentees heading into this game. Emerson Hyndman, Franco Ibarra and Mo Adams are all set to miss out through injury according to the MLS Injury Report. Jurgen Damm is listed as questionable, whilst George Bello, Miles Robinson and Ezequiel Barco are all away on international duty.
Orlando City, similarly, have a number of injury concerns. The most notable of these concerns is, undoubtedly, Pedro Gallese. Initial reports stated that El Pulpo could be out for up to 3 weeks, however Oscar Pareja has said they will decide today (Thursday) if he can play against Atlanta. In addition, Junior Urso and Joao Moutinho missed Wednesday's training session. However, Chris Mueller did not. His inclusion on Friday would seemingly debunk reports coming out of Edinburgh, that Jack Ross' Hibernian side are hoping to seal an earlier transfer. Sebas Mendez is also listed as questionable, and there have been no further updates regarding Pato. Mauricio Pereyra is back from suspension and should start.
Possible starting XI
I don't see Rob Valentino making too many changes this week. Although they lost the game against Columbus, they actually played OK. And were perhaps a touch unfortunate to not get something from the game. The players have had a full rest week (almost), and Atlanta don't have a ton of options anyway:
One of the most celebrated strikers in Major League Soccer history has fallen on hard times of late. He's not been having things all his own way, which makes him very, very sad. It also makes us very, very happy. There can be no doubt he's one of the best scorers to ever play in this league; 19 in 21 in 2017, 35 in 39 in 2018 and 28 in 32 in 2019. His numbers are impressive. However, he's since suffered a very serious cruciate ligament injury. And, having missed almost the whole of 2020, has struggled for form in 2021. With 2 goals in 9 games, 'daddy' hasn't exactly hit the heights. Gabriel Heinze banished him for a short period, which ultimately proved to be the final death knell for the former Manchester United defender.
For me, it's worrying when a player has that much control, even when it's a guy as good as Martinez. It can create an unhealthy narrative in the locker room. Something which we also saw with Frank De Boer; it's well known that the Atlanta squad didn't respect his leadership. Whilst I'm aware De Boer isn't the best example of a coach, he's still the coach. Heinze's case was undoubtedly undermined by poor results, but to have a single player effectively decide whether or not a coach stays.... It's not a situation I ever want Orlando City to be in. Would Nani ever be the proprietor behind a change in leadership? Exactly. And before Atlanta fans @ me, there's a difference between group dissent and personal preference. It felt like Josef was being 'mardy' as we say in the Midlands (Google it). Anyway, just ask Brooks Lennon what he thinks of Heinze:
I'm just sayin'.
Neither club comes into this game in particularly good form. Atlanta United are 2-8-5 on the season so far, and are winless in their last 10 games. They started the season poorly, and endured an awful run of results that ultimately contributed to Gabriel Heinze's downfall. Atlanta currently sit down in 10th, 8 points adrift of the play-off places.
Orlando City, meanwhile, are currently sat 3rd in the east, with a 7-4-4 record. With only 2 wins in 6, and coming into this game off of.... Well, yeah. We said we'd never speak of it, so we won't. Orlando will be desperate to get back to winning ways here.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen. 11.com
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