Atlanta United (7-2-1) are looking to defend their place at the top of the Eastern Conference as they head South this weekend to face Orlando City (6-2-1). Last season, the two sides competed on three occasions, with Atlanta getting the best of the first against the southeast neighbors while battling to a draw in the other two. The Lions will be hoping to flip the script in the 2018 matchup with a new year, a refined roster and a clean slate. On Sunday night, the title of Kings of the South is on the line, and there are some new faces that Five Stripe fans can expect to see lining up in purple:
After a tough start to the season, Orlando are on quite the hot streak, winning their last six matches. A key part of that run has been the contributions of one of their youngest pieces. 2018 SuperDraft selection Chris Mueller has bagged three goals and tacked on an assist to help surge the Lions into third place in the East. The former Wisconsin forward and Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year brings energy, pace and a nose for goal that can’t be taught. In addition to his offensive production, his work ethic and never-say-die attitude has helped him earn a spot in Jason Kreis’s lineup in their last four matches, so it’s likely the red-hot rookie could get the call-up again on Sunday to tear down the wing as they take on Atlanta.
The end of 2017 saw the departure of Orlando captain Kaká, the man who’s worn the captain’s armband since the club made the jump to MLS. His retirement left some big shoes to fill, but it seems they have a found a fit with U.S. international Sacha Kljestan, who’s led them to a franchise record six-match win streak. The former Red Bulls man joined Orlando this offseason after recording 16 goals and 51 assists in three seasons spent in NY. As a true central attacking midfielder, Kljestan has a keen eye for the penetrating pass and clever feet to get him out of tight situations. He’s integrated himself into the midfield seamlessly, with two goals and four assists already to his name, and he’s formed quite the playmaking partnership with last season’s DP signing Yoshimar Yotún. It’s a new-look, 2018 creative core in Orlando and Klejstan sits at the center of it all.
Another dynamic to Orlando’s fresh-looking attack is long-time Columbus midfielder Justin Meram. The Iraqi international has been one of the most productive players in MLS of the last decade scoring 37 goals and 33 assists in seven seasons with the Crew. Meram’s poise on the ball and swift movement makes it extremely difficult to strip him of possession. But perhaps his most valuable attributes as a player is his versatility and his ability to play anywhere in the attack. Orlando has primarily utilized his craft on the wing, but Meram still has the liberty to weave his way into the center and create from the inside out and vice versa, which has led him to tally three assists already for the Lions. He’s yet another piece of the purple puzzle that’s firing on all cylinders at the moment.
This weekend’s match kicks off at 6:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, May 13th, and will be nationally broadcast on FS1. Click here for everything you need to know about how to follow along from home.