After two weeks without a game, Atlanta United (9-7-3) gets back to MLS play Friday as they travel south to face Orlando City (8-7-5). The teams sit just one point apart in the Eastern Conference standings, so there is plenty on the line for the first ever matchup between the two teams from the Southeast. Here’s what Atlanta United fans can expect out of their opponents this weekend:
The most notable absence in either lineup Friday will be Orlando City’s powerful center forward Cyle Larin. The former MLS Rookie of the Year has been one of the premier goal scorers in the league ever since he was drafted first overall in the MLS SuperDraft, scoring 39 goals in 76 appearances so far. The 22-year-old is leading Orlando City this year with 8 goals scored, but has been called up by the Canadian National Team for the Gold Cup knockout stages. On top of his goals, Larin provides a physical presence that can help hold possession in the attacking half, as well as an aerial threat on set pieces that will certainly be missed by the Lions on Friday.
Not Just Kaká
Most Atlanta United fans – or soccer fans for that matter – will recognize former Ballon D’or winner, Brazilian midfielder Kaká in the middle of the park. But despite his undoubted quality, there will be much more than just him Atlanta will need to keep an eye on. First, up top, Carlos Rivas is one of the team’s most potent attacking weapons with 4 goals and 5 assists this season. He’s a constant danger with his speed, with his 56 shots so far this season the most of either team that will take the field Friday.
On the other side of the pitch has been the impressive Jonathan Spector. The U.S. international was signed this offseason from the English Championship and immediately helped plug what was a leaky Orlando defense last season. He lead them to seven wins in their first eight games, and has an impressive 112 defensive interceptions through 20 games so far. He also provides a danger in the air both offensively and defensively, with 46 aerial duels won so far this year – more than two per game. And don’t forget about Joe Bendik in the Orlando City goal, whose 68 saves puts him at second-most in MLS this year, only five behind league-leader Bill Hamid.
Stopping the Skid
After starting the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, Orlando City has hit a bit of a banana peel in the middle part of the season. Orlando comes into the game having just one win in their last six matches, their last match a 3-1 loss at home to Toronto. Their seemingly invincible home form has taken a surprising turn South, with Orlando losing two and drawing three of their last six home matches. Their three-match home winless streak is their longest such streak since May of their inaugural season in 2015. Atlanta will be hoping to keep up their hot streak of four wins out of their past five, and keeping their neighbor’s skid going in the process.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.