After two weeks of training for the second half of the season, Atlanta United is finally getting back into MLS play this weekend as the red, black and gold travel south to face Orlando City SC. Fans will get a first glimpse at their new goalkeeper, with Head Coach Tata Martino confirming this week that U.S. international Brad Guzan will make his first start in goal.
“We were working on some things that we had gone over on film with him, but this week was the first time we had him on the field doing anything tactical with the first team,” Martino said through a translator. “The biggest challenge is just getting him used to how the team likes to play, and with the first team. But now that he’s here, we’re just trying to get him up to speed as fast as possible for the second half of the season.”
“Brad’s a new teammate and he’s here to support us,” forward Yamil Asad said through a translator. “He’s come in, he seems to be getting along with the team, and hopefully things go well for him because that will be what’s best for a team.”
The big news out of the Orlando camp is that their leading goalscorer, Cyle Larin, will miss the game as he joins up with the Canadian National Team for their push in the Gold Cup. But with players like Kaká, Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes ready to fill in in attack, Atlanta is not taking their attack lightly.
“Cyle Larin is a great forward who can score at any moment in any game, so it’s obviously a point for us that they don’t have him,” midfielder Julian Gressel told reporters this week. “But they also have a lot of other pieces that we need to pay attention to and we’ve got to be aware of and focus on them obviously. Then we’ll try to put our game plan to the field and win the game.”
“We’ll have to see how they are going to line up because they’ve played some different schemes this year,” Coach Martino said. “They’ve played with Rivas up top or with Giles Barnes up top or on the wings, and they’ve played Kaká as an attacking mid or out on the left a few times. Those are the things we’ll have to look for this week.”
With just one point separating the teams in the table and this marking the first meeting of the two Southeastern teams in MLS, fans on both sides are building up to a big weekend. But while the players are as focused as ever, they are keeping the match in perspective.
“It’s a good opportunity to re-evaluate the things we’ve been working on in our home form lately,” Asad said. “We’ve been on a good streak at home, and we won our last road game, so this will give us a good chance to re-evaluate that.”
“I think we play them three times, so even we don’t necessarily get the win this time, you still have two more chances to beat them and take six points from them,” Gressel added. “But we play them back to back, and if we win both of them we’ll be pretty clear of them and clear of that sevent place playoff spot. Against Eastern Conference opponents it’s always an important game, so yeah we’re trying to get a win.”
Friday’s match kicks off at 7:00 p.m. EST from Orlando City Stadium, and will be broadcast live on ESPN. Atlanta United will then return home to face Orlando City again for their final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium next Saturday. Tickets for that game are sold out, but you can still find Ticketmaster Verified Resale tickets here.