Welcome to your match thread for an opening day match-up between Orlando City and Atlanta United at Exploria Stadium. The teams have never met on opening day before, so this will be a chance to get the season started with some real animosity. Being that it’s opening day, this is obviously the first meeting between the two MLS Eastern Conference rivals this season and there will be three in all — the Lions will host the Five Stripes again July 30 and Orlando City will visit Atlanta on Sept. 10.
The Lions are 2-6-4 (W-L-D) in the all-time series against Atlanta in league play and 1-4-1 at home. If you count all competitions, Orlando is 2-7-4 and 1-5-1 at home. As dire as that record in, Orlando went unbeaten in four meetings last year (2-0-2) and is therefore on a four-match unbeaten streak in the series.
The last meeting came on Oct. 28, 2020, when Orlando City ran away with a 4-1 win over Atlanta at Exploria Stadium. Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele, and Matheus Aias — his first in MLS — scored the goals for the Lions, with Cubo Torres preventing a shutout with an 87th-minute goal for the visitors. Prior to that, the teams met in Atlanta on Oct. 7 of last year and played to a 0-0 draw. Robinho and Nani each hit the woodwork and Brad Guzan stood on his head to prevent Orlando from taking a deserved three points in that one, while Brian Rowe held down the fort at the other end to earn a shutout in Pedro Gallese’s absence.
Back on Sept. 5, 2020, a late, unforced turnover by Kamal Miller led to Adam Jahn’s 92nd-minute tying goal that offset a Benji Michel goal in a 1-1 draw back on Sept. 5 at Exploria Stadium. Orlando City finally got on the board in the series against Atlanta United with a 3-1 win on the road Aug. 29 of last year. Junior Urso, Mueller, and Nani supplied the offense to more than counter a Brooks Lennon headed goal. That three-goal explosion snapped a three-match scoreless streak against the Five Stripes for Orlando.
Orlando City created an incredible 17 scoring chances on Aug. 23, 2019, yet finished none of them in a 1-0 home loss. Josef Martinez scored the game’s only goal in the second half. Only 17 days earlier at Exploria Stadium, Orlando also failed to score and lost 2-0, getting bounced from the U.S. Open Cup in the semifinals. On Mother’s Day of 2019 Atlanta United claimed a 1-0 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Pity Martinez scored the goal.
Atlanta won at the stadium then known as Orlando City Stadium on Aug. 24, 2018 by a 2-1 final score. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez bundled home a rebound off Joe Bendik, who misplayed Ezequiel Barco’s free kick to open the scoring just 21 minutes in. Scott Sutter tied the game just before the half, but Josef Martinez broke the deadlock in the second half, with only 16 minutes remaining in normal time.
Atlanta easily claimed the June 30, 2018 meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 4-0. Josef Martinez and Barco scored a goal apiece and Almiron added a brace. Orlando lost the first match-up of 2018, 2-1, on May 13. An early penalty on a Cristian Higuita foul gave the visitors a leg up on a Josef Martinez goal from the spot and Barco doubled the lead before halftime. Justin Meram scored his first goal as a Lion to pull one back, but Orlando could get no closer. The unfortunate ending included a shower of debris coming out of the stands due to dissatisfaction with referee Alan Kelly’s decisions that night. Kelly ended the affair early, which may have killed the Lions’ hopes for a dramatic equalizer.
Hector Villalba’s two late goals in the first two meetings turned a draw and a win into a loss and a draw. The two teams kicked off their series with Orlando suffering a late 1-0 loss at home on July 21, 2017. Villalba found the net in the 86th minute to ruin what was a pretty good performance by the Lions, despite the dearth of goals. Villalba then scored a stoppage-time tally to rescue a 1-1 draw for Atlanta in the second meeting on July 29, 2017. Kaká scored one of his best goals as a Lion in that match to provide Orlando’s tally.
Orlando City became the first visiting team to take any points out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 3-3 draw in Atlanta that September. Dom Dwyer scored his first brace as a Lion (in MLS, anyway) and also assisted on Cyle Larin’s goal. Josef Martinez’s hat trick spoiled Orlando’s bid to take all three points.
The Lions hope to build on a successful 2020 campaign that saw them advance to the second round of the MLS Cup playoffs. Orlando City played a strong preseason slate of scrimmages, losing only once — in a game in which New York City FC was awarded two penalty kicks — and drew once. The Lions secured two wins over defending Supporters Shield winner Philadelphia, a win over defending MLS Cup champion Columbus, and a win over playoff side Minnesota United. But that was preseason, and Orlando will immediately have to prove itself all over again against an improved Atlanta United side.
“It’s important to be consistent,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said. “Last year we had a lot of joy in achieving many objectives, but at the same time we understand we were short. It’s something [winning trophies] we want to give so bad to the community and the club. With the energy that the boys have, the desire and the commitment that we all have to this club, we’re expecting nothing but to keep growing and keep competing for first place. Our approach hasn’t changed. That’s the commitment and the responsibility that every coach has to have with his players and the club that we represent.”
Atlanta played Tuesday night in the Concacaf Champions League, but the heavy legs could be offset by having played two competitive matches before Orlando City has gotten its feet wet in 2021 in meaningful action. New Atlanta coach will likely deploy his troops in a 4-3-3 formation and the Five Stripes will always be a threat in transition when winning the ball with dynamic players like Barco, Jurgen Damm, and Josef Martinez. Although our SBNation counterpart David McFarland expects Heinze not to start Martinez, we rarely see teams give Orlando less than their best possible lineup so I expect him to play, to be difficult to defend, and to be unbearably obnoxious if he scores.
Mauricio Pereyra won’t be part of the side for this game due to a suspension stemming from his red card foul in the second round of the playoffs against the New England Revolution. We could see Orlando City deploy a bit of a modified 4-4-2, in which Nani plays as a forward with newcomer Alexandre Pato, but mainly positions himself underneath. That would likely mean fellow newcomer Silvester van der Water and Mueller on the wings with Andres Perea and Junior Urso at central midfield.
The mlssoccer.com injury report lists Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, and Uri Rosell all as questionable with the dreaded “lower body injury” (so…anything from the hip to the toe because, obviously state secrets). Moutinho hasn’t been fully integrated into training with the group as far as we’ve been able to ascertain so ‘questionable’ seems optimistic and I expect Kyle Smith to start at left back. If Jansson can’t go, Rodrigo Schlegel will fill in at left center back. If so, this will be the side to watch when Atlanta is on the ball, as Damm and Brooks Lennon will create issues and get balls into the area for Martinez.
Atlanta’s injury report lists Mo Adams (sports hernia), Alec Kann (shoulder), and Ben Lundgaard (lower body) as out, while Alan Franco and Matheus Rossetto are questionable due to “documentation.” So the Five Stripes will have their most essential players while Orlando could be missing at least three presumed starters and as many as four, with Nani also potentially starting the game on the bench due to a knock that limited his game minutes in the preseason. If Nani does start on the bench, I’d look for Tesho Akindele to start up top with Pato perhaps dropping a bit underneath.
If you’re looking for a likely result, bet on a draw. Orlando City has drawn five times in six previous opening-day matches. The Lions have won once on opening day, which was the first competitive game played in the building we now call Exploria Stadium.
Mandatory Match Content
- Our Intelligence Report gives us more on United from David McFarland from SBNation’s Atlanta blog, Dirty South Soccer.
- This week’s PawedCast includes our key match-ups and score predictions for the match and an exclusive interview with Jansson, who did not tell us he had a lower body injury.
- Check out our 2021 Orlando City season preview.
Orlando City (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.
Defenders: Kyle Smith, Rodrigo Schlegel, Antonio Carlos, Ruan.
Defensive Midfielders: Sebas Mendez, Junior Urso.
Attacking Midfielders: Nani, Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele.
Forward: Alexandre Pato.
Bench: Brandon Austin, Michael Halliday, Rio Hope-Gund, David Loera, Joey DeZart, Silvester van der Water, Andres Perea, Benji Michel, Matheus Aias.
Atlanta United (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan.
Defenders: George Bello, Anton Walkes, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes, Brooks Lennon.
Midfielders: Ezequiel Barco, Santiago Sosa, Emerson Hyndman, Marcelino Moreno.
Forwards: Marcelino Moreno, Lisandro Lopez, Jake Mulraney.
Bench: Rocco Rios Novo, Alan Franco, Mikey Ambrose, Ronald Hernandez, Franco Ibarra, Tyler Wolff, Josef Martinez, Jurgen Damm, Machop Chol.
Ref: Jair Marrufo.
AR1: Jose da Silva.
AR2: Adam Garner.
4th: Tori Penso.
VAR: Younes Marrakchi.
AVAR: Kyle Longville.
How to Watch
Match Time: 3 p.m. ET.
Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando, FL.
TV: TUDN, UniMas.
Radio: 104.1 FM Real Radio (English), Accion 97.9 (Spanish), 810 AM.
Streaming: The match can be streamed on ESPN+ (out of market only), on Twitter (in English), and on Univision NOW and TUDN.com.
Enjoy the match. Go City!