Match Preview: Atlanta United at Orlando City

Its #1 vs #3 in the Eastern Conference this weekend as the Five Stripes travel down to Florida to face their neighbors to the South, Orlando City SC (6-2-1) at Orlando City Stadium. Atlanta United (7-2-1) are coming off their first defeat since their opening match of the season, and will hope to get back to winning ways against an Orlando City team that’s on a franchise record six-match winning streak.

The match kicks off at 6:00 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on FS1 and FOX Sports GO. Click here for all the details on how to follow along with the match.

Atlanta United (7-2-1)

After more than two months without a loss, Atlanta United’s unbeaten run came to a close in their last match against Sporting Kansas City. But there were still plenty of positive signs for the Five Stripes, who went toe to toe with the Western Conference leaders despite having ten men on the pitch for nearly an hour. At the center of the buildup play are Darlington Nagbe and Miguel Almirón. While the Paraguayan gathers the headlines as an early candidate for MVP of the league, Nagbe’s growing influence on the team was on full display Wednesday as he navigated a packed midfield with his stunning close control.

Josef Martinez continues to be the primary scoring threat up top, with his league-best seven goals leading the front line. Meanwhile Ezequiel Barco is turning promise into performance more and more each week as he looks to build on his first MLS goal in Chicago last weekend. And Tata Martino will have options at his disposal, with Tito Villalba rejoining the starting lineup Wednesday for the first time since his injury as well as a fully-rested Julian Gressel, who was named a substitute in the midweek matchup against Sporting.

The big question mark is how head coach Tata Martino will line up the squad. There’s a lineup choice of who will replace Brad Guzan in goal as he serves a one-match suspension. But there’s also a tactical choice, with the gaffer electing on Wednesday to revert to the four-man back line that was so successful last season. Martino has said he will go back and forth between that and the 3-5-2 that has worked so far this year, and that tactical flexibility will be crucial to keep the opponents guessing.

Orlando City (6-2-1)

Orlando City’s season got off to a rocky start, with two losses and a draw to start the year after an offseason roster overhaul following Kaka’s retirement. But they’ve turned that form around recently as the Lions ride a six-match win streak, the longest in team history. The catalyst has been their creative midfield trio of Yoshi Yotún, Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram, who have combined to assist 12 out of the club’s 19 goals so far this season. Kljestan and Meram have been two of the most consistent creators in MLS the past few seasons, while Yotún is living up to the hype as a DP signing. The three combined create a more multi-pronged attack to fill the Kaka-sized hole in their midfield as they look to feed leading goalscorer Dom Dwyer, who at six goals on the season is just one behind Josef Martinez in the Golden Boot race. Meanwhile Chris Mueller could be the early frontrunner in the MLS Rookie of the Year race, with his pace and graft leading to three goals so far.

While Orlando’s front line is potent, their back line could present opportunities for Atlanta United’s high-flying attack. The Lions only have one clean sheet on the season and have let in nine goals during their six-match winning streak. Lamine Sané has been a strong addition to the back line –– and is a dangerous option on set pieces going forward –– but the injury to Jonathan Spector has been tough to overcome for Orlando City. They sit high in the table but are in the bottom half when it comes to goals conceded, while the Five Stripes sit tied for first in the league in goals scored. If Atlanta United can slow down the Lions going forward, there could be opportunities for the red, black and gold to get some joy of their own on the attacking side of the ball in a hostile environment.

It’s the next chapter in a budding rivalry with early implications in the Eastern Conference standings. Make sure you tune in on FS1 for the 6:00 p.m. EST kickoff, and for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.