Atlanta United (10-3-4) looks to keep their lead at the top of the East and the Supporters’ Shield standings as they host Orlando City (6-9-1) on Saturday night. In the matchup between the two southeast clubs, Orlando have yet to beat Atlanta in four meetings to date – two draws, two losses – and last time the Lions paid a visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it was a back & forth thriller which ended 3-3. And just like last time, there will be 70,000+ in the stands roaring the teams on, so make sure to catch this one Saturday on ESPN at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Ahead of this weekend’s game, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.
1) Defeat Dom
Despite missing nearly half the year thus far with injuries, forward Dom Dwyer has still been the most productive man in front of net for the Lions in 2018. Fast, strong, energetic, and an absolute workhorse up front, their big money move last season seems to be paying dividends. Leading his side in goals with seven in just 10 matches, if they can keep him healthy, Dwyer could be the deciding factor in whether or not Orlando City can turn around their seven-match losing streak. The U.S. international struck twice against the 5-Stripes in his last trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and there’s no doubt he’ll be a handful again. His fearlessness is his most telling attribute, so Atlanta will need to make sure to track him at all times, anticipate his runs and take no 50/50 balls lightly because Dwyer is coming at 100% in every challenge. One mistake, one misstep, and the lion up front will pounce and capitalize.
2) Press the Playmakers
Behind Dwyer up front, Orlando has a plethora of attacking midfielders including two well-established MLS-ers that joined the Lions this offseason in Justin Meram and Sacha Klejstan. Meram, the long-time Columbus Crew attacker, has 38 goals and 38 assists in his league career. Primarily deployed on the wing, he’s swift on and off the ball and equally adept at picking out his teammates or scoring himself. Klejstan boasts quite the MLS stats as well, nearing the century mark in assists (88) and tacking on 34 goals. While not particularly fast or physical, the U.S. international possesses a keen soccer IQ and is one of the best passers the league has ever seen. If Atlanta wants to shut down the Orlando attack and prevent the ball from finding Dwyer, it starts with suffocating Meram and Klejstan with constant pressure and keeping their backs to goal.
3) Focus & Finish
There’s a reason the MLS Golden Boot leader wears 5-Stripes and Atlanta United leads the league in scoring with 34 goals, and it’s all because of the club’s high-press, possession-oriented, attacking style. With 69% of the possession, 37 crosses, and 20 shots last weekend, the build-up, the movement and the chances were all there against Portland –– it just didn't fall their way enough in front of net to capture all three points. If they can continue to dominate the play and capitalize on their opportunities, Atlanta could boast another high-scoring affair on Saturday against a team that’s still coach-less and lost seven consecutive matches. Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik has saved just 57.5% of shots he has faced in MLS play since the beginning of May, which is the second-lowest save percentage of any keeper in that time (min. 4 games). It also doesn’t hurt to have Josef Martinez up going up against him, a striker who has 14 goals on the year and recorded a hat trick last time the teams met in Atlanta.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST on Saturday night, with the match set to be broadcast on ESPN & ESPN Deportes and also streamed on WatchESPN. 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.