It’s a quick turnaround for Atlanta United after a thrilling second half against Toronto FC on Saturday night that saw the 5-Stripes pick up three big points at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 4-2 victory. Atlanta heads south to the state of Florida for a clash against Orlando City SC on Wednesday night. With only four matches remaining, every point is crucial to pick up as Atlanta sits five points below the playoff line coming into Wednesday’s match. Orlando City, which won the 2022 U.S. Open Cup earlier this month, is coming off a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia Union and sits fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. These two rivals have played some classic matches in the past. Let’s take a look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Orlando City SC.
Climb aboard “Air Force Juan”
Atlanta United has seen a tremendous amount of success in recent weeks on attacking set pieces and the majority of that success has come thanks to summer signing Juanjo Purata. The Mexican defender, who joined from Tigres UANL in the summer on loan, has made a tremendous impact since joining Atlanta United. He is believed to be only the second full-time defender to ever score a hat trick in MLS after netting three goals against Toronto FC last time out. His six goals in just 13 matches already make him the highest scoring defender in club history.
But as head coach Gonzalo Pineda was quick to point out on Saturday, set piece success doesn’t just come from one player doing the right thing.
“Ultimately, it’s my assistants, they work very hard and 99 percent of the success is the players,” Pineda said in the post-match press conference. “The delivery has been good, they are attacking the areas that we want to attack. The second balls inside the box, they are hitting the areas that we also want and there are players attacking in those areas. It’s the players and my assistants.”
The 5-Stripes enter Wednesday’s match with the second-highest total of goals scored via headers in MLS (12) with six of those 12 coming from Juanjo Purata. If Atlanta can create set piece opportunities and continue to convert them, then they will bring back three points on Wednesday night.
Smother Torres and Orlando’s attack
Facundo Torres is having a really solid first season in MLS for Orlando City. The Uruguayan midfielder has contributed six goals and nine assists to Orlando’s attack this season. He’s a very tricky player who plays mostly on the right wing and likes to cut inside onto his left foot. Several of his assists have gone to Ercan Kara, who leads the team with nine goals scored. Mauricio Pereyra is tied for the team lead with nine assists as well.
Atlanta’s defense needs to close down spaces for Torres and Pereyra in midfield. Keeping those two creative players under control should give the 5-Stripes the advantage on Wednesday.
Continue to spread the wealth in attack
Atlanta United achieved something in the match against Toronto that it had not achieved ever before: six different players recorded an assist. It’s the first time in franchise history that many players recorded an assist in the same match. Thiago Almada recorded his team-leading 11th assist of the campaign, while Andrew Gutman recorded his first in an Atlanta uniform. The 5-Stripes need to continue to keep their foot on the gas offensively over these last few weeks of the regular season. Atlanta has scored 11 goals over the last five matches, which ranks them tied for fifth in MLS in that time frame. A few more goals on Wednesday night would go a long way to picking up back-to-back victories for Atlanta.
Fans can tune-in locally on Bally Sports Southeast on Wednesday night as Atlanta United travels to Orlando City SC at 6 p.m. ET. Click here to learn all the ways to watch, listen and live stream Wednesday's match.