This weekend Atlanta United return to MLS play with a trip to Florida to face their southern neighbors Orlando City SC. Atlanta (9-7-3) is searching for a fourth-straight victory to continue their climb up the table while Orlando (8-7-5) is hoping to break an unusual three-match winless streak in the purple fortress of Orlando City Stadium.
Friday night’s matchup will mark the first-ever meeting between the two Eastern Conference clubs. With southeast bragging rights on the line and one point separating the two sides in the table, this will be one you don’t want to miss. Catch all the action starting at 7:00 p.m. EST on ESPN or via WatchESPN.
Atlanta United (9-7-3)
In their inaugural season as a club Atlanta United are making a statement and breaking the stereotypes of MLS expansion sides. Despite a road-heavy schedule to start the season, Atlanta are consistently at the top of the scoring charts, have won five straight home matches and currently sit in playoff position at fourth place in the Eastern Conference table over halfway through the season.
Renowned as one of the most lethal attacks in all of MLS, Atlanta’s front line is led by four young, promising talents from South America.
Always seeking the ball, Miguel Almirón, named an MLS All-Star a few weeks ago, has proven he is one of the top creative and crafty playmakers in the league. On the wings, Yamil Asad and Tito Villalba have recorded a combined 12 assists and 10 goals thus far. And up top, the team’s leading goal-scorer (9) Josef Martinez is arguably the most in-form striker in the league, having netted four in his last five matches.
Not only their first matchup against Orlando, but Friday night will also mark a memorable time for the expansion club as U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Guzan makes his first appearance for Atlanta United. After signing with the club on a multi-year contract earlier this year and waiting until the league transfer window to officially join up with the team, Guzan is now eligible and ready to hit the field for the five stripes.
Orlando City (8-7-5)
Orlando City have come into their own in their third season at the top tier of U.S. Soccer, kicking off 2017 in their brand new Orlando City Stadium in downtown and starting the season with five-straight wins at their freshly-built home. However, including their recent U.S. Open Cup loss to Miami FC, Orlando are winless in their last four matches inside their purple walls, so they will look to bounce back as they host Atlanta for the first time on Friday night.
Spearheading the team since joining MLS has been world-renowned Brazilian midfielder Kaká. Orlando’s number 10 was recently named to the MLS All-Star roster for the third year in a row, and although the veteran is 35 years of age, he’s still able to pull the strings from the center of the park and remains a major contributor both on and off the pitch for the Lions.
Another important piece of Orlando’s success this season has been the prominent form of midfielder Carlos Rivas. The speedy winger has notched five assists and four goals this season, and could easily have more as his cannon of a left-foot manages to test goalkeepers game-in and game-out. City will have to turn to Kaká and Rivas to find the back of the net on Friday, as the team’s leading goal scorer Cyle Larin joins the Canadian national team to help them in their 2017 Gold Cup run.
Atlanta United sits just one point ahead of Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings and in the second half of the season, inter-conference play becomes even more crucial. There’s a lot on the line as the two sides clash for the first time in Orlando, but regardless of outcome, they’ll have a chance to hash it out once again just 8 days later in Atlanta.
Listen & Watch – Friday, July 21 | 7:00 p.m. EST