Atlanta United (4-3-2) have won four of their last five matches, coming off a decisive 2-0 victory over Toronto at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night. But there’s not much time to celebrate as they host Orlando City (3-4-3) on Sunday, a team that’s had a solid start to the 2019 campaign and is always fighting ATL UTD for their claim as the soccer capital of the South. Last time the Lions paid a visit to Atlanta, the Five Stripes ran rampant in a 4-0 rout, so they’ll be hoping they can deliver a similar performance for the 17’s this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday’s Eastern Conference clash, we broke down the Tools to the Match, presented by The Home Depot:
Orlando’s primary threat in the attacking third this season has come from their latest Designated Player signing in winger Luis Nani, who joined the club just before the start of the 2019 regular season. The Portuguese danger man brings a plethora of experience with 112 appearances and 24 goals for the Portuguese national team under his belt as well as spending the bulk of his career starring at one of the world’s biggest clubs in Manchester United. At 32 years of age, he’s a little less energetic than his prime permitted, but the nifty tricks and tricky technical ability that grabbed the world’s attention years ago are still plenty potent. So far this season, Nani leads Orlando in both goals (5) and assists (4), and come Sunday, they’ll be looking to find his feet every time they’re in possession. Cutting off the supply to Nani will be a key point for Atlanta in securing the win as well as their fifth clean sheet in six matches.
Less dangerous on the ball than Nani, but equally as threatening in front of goal is Orlando City front man Dom Dwyer. Leading the Lions with 13 goals last season, the U.S. international is coming into his own in the City Beautiful after moving from Sporting Kansas City in a record deal in 2017. He’s your vintage penalty box striker: quick, intelligent, aware, and as tenacious as they come. He may go through spans of the game without being involved in his side’s play, but he only needs one opportunity to produce a moment of magic or capitalize on the opposition’s mistake. Atlanta will need to be smart and tidy in possession and keep tabs on Dwyer for the full 90 minutes to keep him and the Lions off the score sheet.
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The Five Stripes put on quite the performance for their home fans on Wednesday night, but one individual stood above the rest – hand-picked by the fans as the top performer and in turn receiving the club’s Golden Spike for the match. Tito Villalba provided the spark on the wing all night, driving the play forward and running at Toronto’s back line from the start and notching his first goal of the season. His pace, energy and a knack for the spectacular often puts defenses on their heels, and he’s notorious among Orlando fans for doing just that, responsible for several match-deciding moments in the teams’ prior meetings. Atlanta will look to feed off their Wednesday performance and finding a way to get Tito involved from the get-go, and he’ll be hoping to turn the match on its head early and rev up the home crowd.
The match is set to kick off Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. You can watch the match on FOX, stream it on FOX Sports GO or listen in on 92.9 The Game or in Spanish at La Mejor Atlanta.