Match Preview: Atlanta United at Orlando City

Atlanta United are coming off one of their most dominant league performances of the season, and it came at a perfect time as the final stages of knockout competition are upon them in the U.S. Open Cup. It’s a trip to Florida this week for the semifinals, with Orlando City standing in the way of the Five Stripes hosting their second Cup final at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It’s always a heated matchup when these two teams play, and with the win-or-go-home nature of knockout play, this is one you will not want to miss.

It all kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EST Friday on ESPN+ –– click here for all the ways to tune in.

Atlanta United

Atlanta United come into this match in hot form, showing once again against the Galaxy over the weekend just how electric they can be. Frank de Boer put it best after the match, saying, “if we keep up this level, it’s very hard for any team to beat us."

Leading the line has been Josef Martinez, whose nine straight MLS matches with a goal tied a league record over the weekend. With Ezequiel Barco rejoining the starting lineup after his injury absence, it added an electricity to the Five Stripes attack that reinvigorated Pity Martínez as well, forming a dynamic attacking trident that cut through the Galaxy back line time after time. With Tito Villalba rejoining the matchday roster and Justin Meram showing once again that he was one of the best signings in the league in this summer window, there are plenty of attacking options up front.

The same goes for the midfield, where the depth in talent is one of the best in the league. Bringing players like Emerson Hyndman and Eric Remedi off the bench on Saturday is a luxury few teams in this league have, and with Darlington Nagbe and Jeff Larentowicz showing great form in the weekend win, Coach De Boer has several ways to shore up the midfield in Orlando. In the back, the long-term absence of Brek Shea is the main name out, with George Bello returning to the fold in training. Meanwhile Florentin Pogba returned to the starting lineup Saturday and Leandro González Pirez is back from suspension, so you can expect a near-full-strength back line in front of Brad Guzan in goal. Atlanta United are getting back to full health, and they put the league on notice with a commanding win over a Western Conference powerhouse this past weekend. If they can show that same form in Orlando, they will have a good shot at hosting their second Cup final in two seasons.

Orlando City

Atlanta United’s neighbors to the South sit in ninth place in the East, just below the playoff line. But after coming out on top over Eastern Conference powerhouse NYCFC at home in the last round of the Open Cup, they’ve shown they can rise to the occasion on their home pitch. With the club still looking for their first win over Atlanta United –– and their first chance at first-division silverware two wins away –– you can be sure they will be up for this one.

Their attack starts with a player who’s used to big matches in former Manchester United winger Nani, who leads his team with four assists and is tied for the most goals on the team with eight. At 32 years old, he’s still dynamic, strong and technical in possession, and will be trying to create something in the attacking third every time he’s on the ball. But he’s not the only weapon up front; MLS veterans Tesho Akindele and Dom Dwyer bring physicality and finishing ability inside the box, while Chris Mueller has shown a consistent spark since entering the league in the MLS SuperDraft last year.

In the back is a defensive unit that is much improved on last season, with Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson the first-choice center back pairing in front of former Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Brian Rowe. On the flanks are former LAFC SuperDraft pick Joao Moutinho and Brazilian fullback Ruan, who will both be looking to get forward to combine in the attack. That means the Atlanta United wingers will have to stay disciplined and help defend to avoid being outnumbered in the wide areas –– but also means they could find space behind those fullbacks if they get pulled too far forward. If Atlanta United can exploit that space, it will put the defense on their heels, and scoring an early goal would go a long way toward quieting the Orlando crowd and getting on the front foot in the match.

It’s a chance to reach a Cup final against a conference rival, so make sure you’re cheering on the Five Stripes at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Click here for everything you need to know about how to tune in.